Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
The Whack Tax
If you are a musician playing a gig in the city of Scranton any time soon, be wary: Scranton wants a cut of the money and considers itself part of the act … the over-served yet ineffective tambourine player if you will. It’s not just musicians who are in the city’s crosshairs — it’s actors, directors, magicians, dancers and any other artists who may be involved in what is being generalized as forms of amusement.
If you’re caught amusing someone in the City of Scranton, it’s going to cost you.
What is amusement? According to a notice sent to Scranton business owners by the Department of Licensing, Permits and Inspections dated Jan. 10, 2014, the amusement tax (passed on Dec. 10, 2012) allows the city “to impose a 5-percent tax upon privilege of attending or engaging in non-exempt amusements, including every form of entertainment, diversion, sport, recreation and pastime, requiring all persons, partnerships, associations and corporations conducting places of amusements; imposing duties and conferring powers upon the Treasurer of the City of Scranton; prescribing the method and the manner of collecting the tax imposed by the ordinance; and imposing penalties for the violation thereof.”
Exactly 5-percent of what? 5-percent of every ticketed event (Hi there Pavilion at Montage Mountain. You’re technically in Scranton and they want your money too!) and 5-percent of cover charges collected at the doors of local clubs, bars and performance spaces.
If you visit some of these Scranton venues, you can’t help but feel for owners who are fighting an increasingly difficult battle against the city when it comes to providing entertainment for their patrons. Not only do the businesses have to fork over money to the city in the form of a yearly entertainment licence — which is not common practice — but must pay substantial licensing fees to The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) which collects performance royalties on behalf of the songwriters and publishers they represent.
Scranton wants a cut of the price of admission from an event that hopes to amuse and entertain. The irony is that most of us look to suspend a portion of our day-in-day-out struggles of living on the fringe of ridiculous laws and licenses through entertainment. If a band makes $400 at the door on a busy Friday night, the owner is being asked to take $20 away from the band’s share and set it aside to help save the city from their financial woes and worries. Maybe $20 seems like a lot or maybe it seems like not enough, but it’s the principle. The city wants another piece of someone else’s pie without taking the time to look down at its own plate.
If things continue to spiral in this direction, the city and its administrators may continue to make even more ridiculous demands — like asking people not to park on the streets of downtown Scranton on Valentine’s night so it can devise a plan to properly remove accumulated snowfall from its streets and sidewalks.
I spoke with Pat Hinton, the recently appointed director of Department of Licensing, Permits and Inspections about the letter sent out to Scranton business owners on Jan. 10 and although he is listed as the writer of the letter and his number is listed under the contact information, he was unaware such a letter exists. He did assure electric city and diamond city that he would send us information as it becomes available, hopefully leading to further conversations about the amusement tax, the city’s policy and the businesses and artists it will affect.
I wouldn’t mind giving a cut of the cover charge here and there to help Scranton, but the city should have to at least play a song or two — or maybe even help carry in the drum set and speakers.
That would be amusing.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Cornershop When I Was Born for the 7th Time (Warner Bros.) 1997
Editor Tom Graham is a musician and singer/songwriter rooted in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
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