by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Nearly 100 people protesting a decades-old state tax on dance venues danced the salsa, flamenco, tango, and other styles (including even a conga line!) up and down the steps of the state Capitol in Olympia on Monday.
The protest, organized by Hallie Kuperman, owner of the Century Ballroom on Capitol Hill in Seattle, was in support of a proposal now being considered by lawmakers to do away with the so-called 'opportunity to dance' tax - which, as its name implies, is levied on businesses that offer attendees the 'opportunity' to dance.
According to the Washington Department of Revenue, cover charges and tickets for movies, plays, and concerts are exempt from that tax.
Kuperman, the most outspoken proponent of the repeal, says enforcement is arbitrary, targeting medium-sized clubs and taverns but not larger venues like sports stadiums, which often host concerts where people dance.
The tax, which is being enforced on several Gay-owned and operated businesses on Capitol Hill, is unpopular among most people SGN has spoken to.
Daniel Hanks, director of outreach for Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), a local social justice nonprofit that is asking people to support the repeal bill, SB 5613, said, 'The interesting part is that the only businesses being targeted are ones chosen by the Department of Revenue, yet they don't have guidelines to who and how they choose the businesses.'
Department of Revenue spokesperson Mike Gowrylow said in a statement that the tax has 'applied to certain recreational activities since the 1960s, and our job is to ensure that businesses comply with those laws.'
WHAT WILL THEY TAX NEXT?
'I work in the nightlife and my livelihood is in dancing,' said Hanks. 'They are taxing a physical movement. Does this mean that they can tax yawning, or going to the bathroom?
'I just want to make sure that this issue will receive as much visibility as possible because it affects just about everyone,' continued Hanks, who danced alongside the protesters on April 1.
To see video coverage of the SOSea-supported dance-in, go to www.socialoutreachseattle.com/videos/event-videos.
'It's a retail sales tax on an opportunity to dance and the Department of Revenue has yet to be able to define what that means,' Kuperman, who acted as DJ of the event, told USA Today.
Century Ballroom got hit with a $200,000 bill for back taxes last year. She was able to negotiate that down to around $90,000, and since then she has nearly raised that amount through a series of special fundraising events. But she is not a happy camper.
'Some places are being charged for this tax for some shows and not for other shows. It's completely arbitrary,' she points out.
In fact, Kuperman, who has owned the social dance club for 15 years, says tax officials are being downright sneaky.
'[The department] quietly amended language to the Taverns section of their website, but did not send out a communication to the business sector,' said Kuperman. 'I am angry that we are even in this position.'
DOR: NO EXCUSES
The department has countered that the businesses protesting the tax are those that weren't doing their bookkeeping correctly and whose back taxes came to light in audits.
Gowrylow said that the protest was coming from 'a handful of businesses that failed to collect sales tax on cover charges they imposed on customers to enter dance venues.'
'Most of their competitors were properly collecting sales tax when due, and if businesses weren't sure whether or not they should collect the tax in a given situation, all they had to do was ask us. They didn't,' Gowrylow continued.
The text of the 'dance tax' law can be found online at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=458-20-183.
The proposed tax repeal, which has support from members of both parties, has cleared a committee and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Go to http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2013-14/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5613.pdf to read SB 5613.
Supporters of repeal are facing the fact that this bill may not pass, due to a continuing shortfall in the state budget.
According to official estimates, repealing the dance tax would cost more than $880,000 in the 2013-15 budget cycle. Because the repeal measure affects the budget, it will remain alive until the waning days of the legislative session.
'If we win, we'll win it toward the end,' said Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray (D-43rd Dist.) of Seattle, who was at the protest and even danced with the crowd.
Murray has spoke out against the tax in recent weeks. 'The whole concept of taxing dance, I think, is a bit odd,' he said. 'Our nightlife business, which is a vibrant part of our business community, gets unfairly hit by this tax.'
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