I have not often covered wasteful government spending here at The New Leaf Journal. However, that does not mean that the topic is not near and dear to the heart of your New York City-based editor (I suppose I indirectly addressed it when I advocated moving Madison Square Garden). I came across a December 13, 2022 New York Post article by Mr. Carl Campanile titled Hochul pressured to provide film tax break to Sherri Shepherd show. Despite the fact that I had no idea who Ms. Shepherd was before opening the article, I had a feeling that this would be good. Rather than pontificate in an essay detached from the original source material, I will instead engage in a dialogue with the report and those quoted in it.

The article begins…

Gov. Kathy Hochul is being urged by black leaders to sign a bill into law to provide a tax break to the Sherri Shepherd morning talk show which replaced the Wendy Williams show and films in New York.

I at least know who Wendy Williams is. I read an article about the end of her show after I saw it recommended despite never having seen her show. Ms. Shepherd was probably mentioned therein, but the name did not stick.

Public domain Openclipart image by speedstar -- shows a black and white swamp with "SWAMP WANTED" written.
Public domain Openclipart image by speedstar (link).

Let us continue…

The unusual carve-out is being advocated by lawmakers who feel that Shepherd’s production deserves the same tax consideration that Williams got…

This assumes facts not in evidence – specifically that Ms. Williams’ show had ever deserved to be subsidized by the taxpaying residents of New York. (Aside – do not use got in this way in an article. No good.)

We learn more…

Sponsors of the bill — which passed both state legislative houses in June — fear Shepherd’s show will move to Los Angeles if it is forced to pay normal taxes…

If New York City does not give Ms. Shepherd’s show tax breaks, her show will pack up and move to the low-tax haven of Los Angeles, California. (Do you see what I just did there?) This passage led me to wonder two things…

  1. Why should New York lawmakers care whether a single daytime talk show is filmed in Manhattan or in Los Angeles?
  2. If a large corporation says “New York City taxes are so onerous that we will pack up and move to Los Angeles, California,” how is it that anyone’s first reaction is “let us make a special carve out for this single instance”? I dare suggest that if New York City taxes are bad enough to drive Ms. Shepherd’s show to California (even granting whatever generous subsidies Los Angeles might offer), taxes are probably quite burdensome on other New York businesses, both large and small, many of which have less sway over lawmakers than the corporate entities behind Ms. Shepherd’s show. Perhaps there is a way to consider the issues more holistically to create a more appealing environment to do business for all…

According to Mr. Campanile, the lawmakers have another fear…

…and that will reduce the ‘diversity’ in New York media.

It will be tough, but I think that we will be able to continue living life as we are if Ms. Shepherd’s show is filmed in Los Angeles instead of New York City.

The Post article quotes only one lawmaker – Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages. I always like to go to the source, so I invite you to learn with me why some of my so-called representatives are calling upon me to subsidize tax breaks for a talk show I had not previously heard of.

If we allow the Sherri Shepherd show to leave New York, what message are we sending to the diverse audience that supports it?

It is easy to jeer from the gallery, but your humble New Leaf Journal editor seeks to be a man in the arena. To be sure, I do question Ms. Solages’ proposal, but I have considered her concerns. She is challenging me and all of the critics. What message do we send the loyal New York viewers of Ms. Shepherd’s show if the show relocates to Los Angeles because we do not subsidize it with tax breaks? I undertook careful research (Wikipedia) and discovered that “Fox Television Stations” is the major affiliate base for Ms. Shepherd’s show. Thus, I have proposed a message for Ms. Solages to send to “the diverse audience that supports” Ms. Shepherd’s show if filming is moved to Los Angeles:

You can continue watch Ms. Shepherd’s show on your local Fox station.

Ms. Solages was not done though. She had a second, more powerful argument:

Surely, we want people to recognize that New York did everything it could to keep this woman of color in New York.

Do we want to, or must we? In her letter to the Governor of New York, Ms. Kathy Hochul, Ms. Solages suggested that passing this special tax break is imperative:

Absent the receipt of the credit it is highly likely that this show will be transferred to Los Angeles for production. We must not let that happen.

While I have no plans to watch Ms. Shepherd’s show, I am sure she is a nice lady. I can opine from the photographs in the article that she has a lovely smile made for television. She described the concept for the show last September:

Without giving away any specifics, people are going to see lightness and they’re going to know they can escape for an hour. We’re going to be intentionally joyful. That’s what I’m bringing.

That sounds like a very nice concept. In a sense, a daytime talk-show host is asking people to invite him or her into their living rooms for a short time. Many viewers would surely like to invite a joyful personality into their homes through their televisions for an hour.

(It sounds a bit more noble than one talk show I have covered indirectly.)

Fortunately, Ms. Shepherd will be able to bring light and joy to her audience’s day whether she is filming in Manhattan or Los Angeles. As I established above, Americans will be able to watch Ms. Shepherd on network television regardless of her filming location.

If Ms. Shepherd and her team decide to stay in Manhattan, all the power to them. If they take their talents to Los Angeles (or even South Beach), I wish them nothing but the best. They should do what is best for them – so long as what is “best” does not involve special, very targeted tax breaks. This is what I would do if I were making as much money as Ms. Shepherd and her team and I had the ability to choose where to live and work. I may even consider tax issues and choose a well-known low-tax jurisdiction such as New York City or Los Angeles. (Do you see what I just did there?)

I suspect that I am speaking for the majority of New York residents when I say that I genuinely do not care whether her show is based in Manhattan or Los Angeles. Moreover, I suspect that the vast majority of people in New York who watch Ms. Shepherd’s show probably do not care whether it is filmed in Manhattan or Los Angeles.

(If a nationally syndicated talk show’s studio audience makes up a significant portion of its viewer-base, it would soon cease to be filmed, much less syndicated.)

I also do not care that Ms. Shepherd is a “woman of color.” There are many such women in New York and the broader United States. They too should weigh personal, case-specific factors in determining where to live or work – preferably without unwarranted special tax breaks.

Mr. Campanile noted in his article that the special Shepherd tax break proposal is not without critics (alas, I could not be the first). Let us hear from Mr. John Kaehny, director of Reinvent Albany:

How about spending our state taxes on schools, clean water, and subways instead of Hollywood producers and millionaire TV stars.

New York State and New York City already spend lavishly on schools, utilities, and subways. New York City spends the most per student of any U.S. jurisdiction. Now – New York’s actual outcomes in the areas of schools, utilities, and subways are less than satisfactory (that is putting it generously) – but the issue is not lack of financial largess.

Allow me to offer a useful lesson in argumentation – jumping off Mr. Kaehny’s misguided platitude. This is important enough to quote myself in a block quote:

But the school funding!’ is not an all-purpose retort.

N.A. Ferrell

New York schools, and New York City schools specifically, are mismanaged and produce unacceptably poor outcomes generally. They have many problems (let us not forget the colleges). Raw funding is not among the problems. I have no doubt that the Department of Education could light money on fire in the amount of Ms. Shepherd’s proposed tax break within a single conference – all without improving a single student’s prospects.

(The subways may be less reassuring than the education system.)

Now back to our main production.

I disagree with the proposal to give special tax breaks to Ms. Shepherd’s show. I disagree with Mr. Kaehny’s initial critique. But what do I actually agree with? Fortunately, Mr. Kaehny brought something much stronger in the next quote:

The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon got $24 million in state money in 2021. Why does Jimmy Fallon deserve state handouts more than Sherri Shepherd or any other new show? He doesn’t — none of these variety shows should be funded by state taxpayers. The State should pass a new law ending this highly politicized and wasteful subsidy — not pass new laws benefiting one variety show.

This is the way.

I remember the stories (see Minnesota’s credits to NBC for Mr. Fallon’s show) about Mr. Fallon’s absurd tax subsidies. I could not care less where the late night TV show hosts are based. If NBC (Mr. Fallon is NBC, right?) would film the Tonight Show in California but for New York’s tax credits, I would wish them luck.

Mr. Keahny’s incisive analysis of the Fallon give-away addressed a talking point being used by proponents of the Shepherd special. For example, let us hear from Mr. Carl Washington of the Empire State Missionary Convention:

All of us remember the series and accommodations and incentives that were given to Jimmy Fallon to bring the Tonight Show to New York.

Fear not, Mr. Washington – I dare say that given my suspicion that Ms. Shepherd’s tax breaks would amount to less than 24 million, the proposal is likely less offensive to my sensibilities than the one given to Mr. Fallon. However, this lights the way to a solution. We should not only decline to grant a tax break to Ms. Shepherd’s daytime talk-show, we should rectify the error of the likely larger tax subsidy given to NBC for Mr. Fallon’s show. I see no insinuations in Mr. Washington’s comparison – surely he is proposing that we abolish all of these silly tax subsidies.

Lurking in this article about the proposed tax break for Ms. Shepherd or the bad precedent-setting tax break already doled out to Mr. Fallon is a far more nefarious program which enables our distinguished lawmakers to beclown themselves by trying to one-up each other on which entities will receive special tax breaks for the purpose of filming a TV show with a small staff and studio audience in New York instead of California. Behold…

New York State has a generous $420 million film and TV industry tax credit that provides sweeteners to movies and TV shows that film in local studios and employ local residents.

I am familiar with some of the effects of this dreadful program. Self-important film crews benefiting from the program barge into local neighborhoods, shut down streets (including outside a senior center in one recent example), and mill around in the way with clipboards and phones. Lest one thinks that they are stimulating the local economy, they bring their own food instead of buying local food. It is also somewhat odd in light of how New York City politicians are passionate about inflicting e-bikes the on New York City in part to save the planet (their own formulation) that they simultaneously give special tax breaks to movie companies to leave large trucks idling for 12 hours.

But I digress.

The film and TV tax credit gives lawmakers an opportunity to funnel taxpayer money to their own campaign donors. It also creates quality of life problems for neighborhoods most afflicted by the film crews. Let it be said that I was not surprised when a production called East New York was taking over Atlantic Avenue in Cobble Hill instead of in East New York.

Not in any of our backyards.

Back in 2019, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo advocated abolishing the tax credit – notwithstanding the fact that he had previously supported it and signed an extension through 2022. Mr. Cuomo was open about his supporting axing the tax credit because lawmakers had contributed to sinking his joint effort with former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to give large tax credits to Amazon to entice the world’s largest online retailer to do more business in New York City (I opposed the Amazon subsidies and enticements, for whatever it is worth). Lawmakers opposed Mr. Cuomo’s spite-driven, but ultimately correct proposal (because the tax credit is a great way to buy campaign donations with other people’s money).

In conclusion, I propose abolishing the film and TV tax credit and replacing it with a more broadly applicable tax credit for New York-based online writing website administrators and editors.

(Please contact your local representatives to make this happen.)