ALBANY — Writer and actress Tina Fey is among the entertainers who lost their bid to create a “diversity credit” in New York state to encourage the hiring of more women and racial minorities to write and direct television programs.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed the bill last week that would have been the first in the nation to subsidize and encourage the hiring of TV writers and directors who aren’t white men. The bill sought to devote up to $5 million of the state’s $420 million in tax breaks for TV and movie productions to help fund the writing and directing jobs.
“We are stunned and disappointed by the governor’s veto,” said Writers Guild of America East executive director Lowell Peterson on Wednesday. “New York has missed the chance to make history. Study after study, testimonial upon testimonial, have proven beyond doubt that the television industry has a major diversity problem. Women and people of color are vastly underrepresented, particularly as writers and directors, and they have been for many years.”
Cuomo sympathized with the effort, but said the bill was “fatally defective.”
“I fully support programs that seek to improve economic opportunities for underrepresented groups throughout the state,” Cuomo said in his veto message. But he said the film and TV tax credit program to attract and subsidize jobs in New York is already “extremely oversubscribed.”
He also said there is a constitutional concern about funding jobs based on race or gender.
“The bill lacks statistical evidence to ensure that the program would withstand constitutional scrutiny,” said Cuomo, the former state attorney general. “In order to constitutionally classify individuals on the basis of race or ethnicity, the state must demonstrate statistically significant evidence of race-based discrimination against screenwriters and directors.”
Cuomo also said the measure would have funded jobs “above the line” because the current state TV and film tax credit only funds jobs for workers who aren’t stars or directors.
The film and TV industries have been under pressure to increase diversity following the 2016 Academy Awards nominations in which only white actors and actresses were nominated in the top categories.
“Study after study proves the vast disparities between the diversity of our state’s population and the percentage of TV writers and directors who are women or people of color,” wrote Fey, TV host Samantha Bee and other artists in a letter to Cuomo released publicly. “Recent scandals only underscore the risk of allowing the profound lack of diversity in the industry to persist.”
The letter was in reference to sexual harassment accusations made in recent weeks in the entertainment industry and other fields, including journalism and politics.