Mayor Vincent C. Gray noted on Friday that his budget plan includes a proposal to extend the city’s 6 percent sales tax to “live theater” for the first time, raising $2.3 million for fiscal 2012.
But “live theater” is quite a bit broader than just Arena Stage and Studio Theater performances and the like.
The change, as reflected in budget legislation submitted by the Gray administration, would end a sales tax exemption long extended to “live performances of ballet, dance, or choral performances, concerts (instrumental and vocal), plays (with and without music), operas and readings and exhibitions of paintings, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts.”
So what Gray is selling as a tax on “live theater” would more accurately be a tax on the fine arts more broadly. That said, much of the city’s arts activity is either free or federally sponsored and hence untaxable.
Still, expect to hear objections galore from arts groups of all sizes. But an important thing to keep in mind: As the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute’s Ed Lazere noted in a 2009 Greater Greater Washington item, several city arts groups have gotten major cash infusions from the District government in the pre-recession years — including the aforementioned Arena Stage, which last year cut the ribbon on its spectacular new home, funded in part by a $25 million from the city.
Note that “movies, circuses, burlesque shows, sporting events, and performances or exhibitions of any other type or nature” have already been subject to sales taxation.