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Government subsidies, American-style

0 Robert Levine

I know we don’t have much in the way of government subsidies for the arts in this country, but this is ridiculous:

Officials with art and cultural groups in Philadelphia say they are angered by the state’s decision to expand state sales taxes to their businesses.

Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance director Peggy Amsterdam said Pennsylvania officials’ decision to apply the state sales tax to cultural performances and venues may prove detrimental to artistic and cultural sites statewide, the Philadelphia Inquirer said Sunday.

“Not only will it hit the arts organizations, but it will make it harder for people to pay,” Amsterdam said of the new tax burden for such venues.

“It would affect not only the orchestra but every single organization in this town,” said Hal Sorgenti, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s immediate past board chairman.

The expansion of the state sales tax to performing-arts and other cultural venues is intended to help the state raise nearly $100 million, the Inquirer said.

Gary Tuma, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s spokesman, would not offer specifics regarding the state’s budget plan confirmed Friday.

Tuma told the Inquirer “we cannot do a budget without pain,” adding, “and there is widespread pain in this budget.”

I once calculated that my orchestra returns more money to the government in sales tax (not to mention various employment and withholding taxes, of course) than it receives in direct subsidies. That’s because we’re considered “entertainment” by the State of Wisconsin, unlike the local African dance company, another 503(c) organization performance organization (and one that’s unique to Milwaukee, I believe) and many other arts groups, which apparently are considered something else.

This move is getting a lot of pushback, which is good. I’ve never thought government subsidies were a sustainable answer to funding the arts in America, but is it too much to ask that the arts don’t subsidize the government? We don’t ask that of universities, or upscale private schools, or churches, or social agencies. Why should the arts be singled out like this?

The arts don’t need lectures from state governments about “sharing the pain.”


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