Arts and Culture in Crisis: The Arts Tax Debate

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Should we place a sales tax on admission prices to arts and cultural events, museums, zoos, performances and theater? Or should we tax natural-gas drillers, smokeless  tobacco and cigars? 

Should we place a sales tax on admission prices to arts and cultural events, museums, zoos, performances and theater? Or should we tax natural-gas drillers, smokeless  tobacco and cigars? 

On day 94 of an increasingly heated state budget impasse, the Democratic-run Pennsylvania state House passed a bill that rejected the proposed ‘Arts Tax’ that fired up the arts and cultural community for two weeks, in favor of placing a tax on natural-gas drillers, smokeless  tobacco and cigars. But all is not decided yet. The budget now has to go to the state Senate, which is widely Republican. The decision was passed late last night, Friday, October 2nd (at 10:10pm). 

What is the proposed ‘Arts Tax’? On Friday, September 18th, Governor Ed Rendall and state legislative leaders stated that to create the FY 2010 budget they would need to tax cultural nonprofits, which by federal regulations are tax-exempt. The tax would increase ticket prices, admission fees and membership levels to museums, cultural centers, theaters, zoos and so on by up to 6%. It did not target sports, or movies. 

Photo courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

What did Philadelphia do about it? Pennsylvania is home to 4,900 nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, many of which are right here in the Greater Philadelphia region.  According to the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, “Nonprofit arts and culture activity generates $2 billion annually in economic activity and supports over 60,000 jobs statewide.” A 6% increase in ticket prices would hurt sales, negatively impacting this mission-driven, non-profit community, the services they offer, the jobs they provide and the invaluable role art and culture plays in our society. 

Philadelphia would not sit idly and watch our cultural community suffer. When the ‘Arts Tax’ was first announced, the community held a rally on Broad St by City Hall on Friday, September 25th (pictured right) and again on Friday, October 2nd. Over 200 people attended the second event, even though it was already looking like the ‘Arts Tax’ would be tabled. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance helped spread the word, encouraged citizens to email, call and contact their state representatives. Ultimately, these efforts were successful in defeating the proposed ‘Arts Tax’ at the state House level. The battle is not over, however, until the both the state House and Senate pass the state budget for 2010. 

We are currently in the middle of the nation’s longest state budget impasse. At a time when we’re also in an economic recession, adding taxes to arts and cultural non-profits in order to maintain a budget supporting our libraries, museums, cultural centers, school programs, etc. seems ironic, impractical and not a wise decision.  

What can you do about it?  Unfortunately, this budget debate has been extremely party-line and its not over until a state budget is passed. The ‘Arts Tax’ was rejected in the Democratic-run state House and now the decision belongs to the state Senate, which is widely Republican. We need a state budget, but we need a state budget that works for us. Continue to show your support by calling your representative, spreading the word, and following the progress. Please visit http://www.philaculture.org/action for more steps and assistance with the facts, what to say and who to contact. 

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