Some time ago, the Vermont Tax Department notified the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts that it owes $190,000 for taxes on tickets from the past three years of ticket sales. That past due tax notice would be forgiven by a new bill just passed in Montpelier but the bill ensures collection going forward.
The Vermont House and Senate negotiating committee and the governor all signed off on “Challenges for Change” late last week. The bill includes a 6% sales tax on tickets to cultural institutions and performing arts events presented by non-profit cultural organizations like the All Arts Council or the Flynn. Organizations with admission revenue over $50,000 must collect this tax starting next year.
“The committee did it in the dark of the night at the end of the session,” State Senator Randy Brock (R-Franklin County) told me about the section of the bill meant to clarify the question of admissions taxes.
“The Senate took no testimony” on this, so it went forward unvetted. he said. That leaves the legislature with some unanswered questions.
The controversial efficiency bill has a lot to like. “Challenges for Change” is (relatively) small. It appears to save some money. It changes the way government does business. It is the first law ever passed that concentrates on outcomes.
Unfortunately, it is not the first time the legislature has snuck a new tax into an otherwise good bill.
Let the finger pointing begin.
“What we didn’t anticipate was that the bill would take away our ability to do things we could do before there was a Challenges bill,” Tom Evslin told the Times Argus. “That may be the largest problem.” Mr. Evslin is Vermont’s Chief Recovery Officer and the Douglas Administration’s Technology chief.
Gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin (D-Windham County) responded that the administration “might not understand the bill as well as they need to.”
Sorry, Mr. Shumlin. I think we understand the bill just fine.
The legislature took a pretty nice concept — the Challenges Bill specifies the broad areas for savings and identifies those outcomes state agencies and programs must achieve — and mucked it up with “oh my God, you can’t do that” restrictions. Then the legislature added new “revenue sources” like the tax on your concert tickets.
The downside to the new admission tax is two-fold. (1) Ticket prices at larger venues and events will rise which means ticket buyers will pay more. (2) Rather than cutting spending in times of reduced revenue, the House and Senate conference committee opted to create yet another new tax.
I live in the real world. I’ve had to tighten my belt, Mr. Shumlin. Part of the reason I had to tighten my belt is that you raised my taxes. Again.