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    Updated September 30, 2009

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Pennsylvania Proposed
Tax on the Arts

On Friday, September 18, 2009, PA Governor Edward Rendell announced that the General Assembly had made great strides in solving their budget gap. One of their strategies for generating more income for the state was going to be a 6% raise in tickets to arts and cultural events. It would have affected theatres, museums, parks and zoos. It was not to be applied to movies or sporting events.

Actors' Equity coordinated with our Philadephia Liaison Committee (chaired by Tom Helmer) and members in Scranton and Pittsburg, along with the Greater Philadelphia Theatre and Cultural Alliances and the Pittsburg Cultural Alliance, to mount on-the-ground and legislative protest. There were two rallies held in Philly within a 2-week period which received great media attention and visibility. Equity helped coordinate and participated in both. We called on the Pennsylvania Equity membership to place calls and emails to members of their General Assembly, contacted key Senators to help champion the issue and had a visit to Harrisburg, home of the capitol building, planned for Tuesday, October 6th to lobby those elected officials who were still hold-outs on eliminating the tax.

Fortunately, at the Barrymore Awards, word came from the mayorís Arts and Culture Czar, Gary Steuer, as well as several other reliable sources that the tax on theatres had been taken off the table in both the House and the Senate. The stage budget is now 101 days past due but is expected to be on the Governorís desk for signing today (10/9/09).


Actors' Equity Association members and staff joined the hundreds of enthusiastic and passionate marchers at an anti- arts tax rally in Philadelphia

Stephanie Masucci

More than 20 Equity members and staff turned out in Philadelphia to protest a proposed state Arts Tax that would affect arts organizations statewide. They joined hundreds of others in a show of support against the proposed tax.

The rally, held Friday, September 25th, was organized to tell the Governor and State legislators that a tax on theaters, zoos, museums and other arts organizations was not a fair burden and should not be part of the new budget. The Governor had announced the proposed tax as a way to close the state budget gap. The rally began at Broad and Walnut Streets in the heart of the Philadelphia theater district where State Senators Daylin Leach, Larry Farnese and Mike Stack, who were surprised by the Governorís proposal, spoke to the enthusiastic crowd. They and the protestors then marched up the Avenue of the Arts and back.

"PA Anti-Cultural Tax Rally"

photo: Stephanie Masucci

Nonprofit arts and culture activity in Pennsylvania generates $2 billion annually in economic activity and supports over 60,000 jobs nationwide. Equity stands in staunch opposition to the proposed tax on the arts. Kudos to Philadelpia Area Liaison Chair Tom Helmer and members Pat Adams, Lori Aghazarian, Barry Brait, Jennifer Childs, Aaron Cromie, Ben Dibble (with his family!), John Flak, Neal Fox, Scott Greer, Lenny Hass, Steve Hatzai, Johnnie Hobbs Jr., Dave Jadico, Ben Lloyd, Drucie McDaniel, Tom Mc Nutt (joined by his wife Helen, a member of SAGís Philadelphia National Board of Directors), Jo Mercer, Paul Nolan, Pete Pryor, Mark Saxton, Mary Elizabeth Scallen, Tom Shotkin, Chris Wehlan, Susan Wilder and staffers Stephanie Masucci (a native of Philadelphia) and Karen Master for turning out for the rally.

The crowd heads down South Broad Street

photo: Stephanie Masucci

photo: Stephanie Masucci

State Senators Daylin Leach, Larry Farnese and Mike Stack address the crowd

photo: Stephanie Masucci

Why is a sales tax on arts tickets a BAD idea?

1. Cultural institutions are already subsidizing education. The Governor and State Legislators are misguided in their belief that they can fund education on the backs of Pennsylvania cultural institutions. We are already providing heavily discounted services to public schools across the state. In Philadelphia, performing arts organizations serve almost 600,000 school-aged children annually. The additional burden created by the ticket tax will cause cultural institutions to cut their education program expenses. So the State will simply be giving with one hand while taking away with the other.

2. Cultural institutions are already generating revenue for the State. In 2006, $325 million was spent directly into the economy of Greater Philadelphia by performing arts organizations and their audiences, generating $38 million in revenue for State and local government. This ancillary spending by audiences on restaurants, parking, lodging, and other amenities is also considered when cultural organizations establish ticket prices. It is clear that if we absorb the tax to keep ticket sales strong, we will need to cut more jobs and spend less on production materials. However, if we pass the tax on to you, our customers, we risk alienating you. Either way, the imposition of this tax will lead to decreased spending at other businesses, further depressing the ancillary tax revenue generated by the performing arts industry.

3) Non-profit institutions are TAX EXEMPT because we provide a public service. We do not draw a profit from our ticket sales as movies and sporting events do. Not only is it outrageous that state lawmakers would tax cultural performances, but it stands to undermine the very non-profit model that makes those performances possible.

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