May 04, 2004
Chaos reigns in Austin

It's pretty much official - gambling is dead. Everyone knows the votes aren't there. And that new business payroll tax - dead, too. All of this pretty much guarantees that whatever eventually gets christened as The Bill won't do squat for schools and will inflict a thousand paper cuts on various subsets of the population.

So who's in the crosshairs now for new taxes? Well, there's snackers, for one.

[Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land] is proposing a 1 percent "snack tax" on beer, wine, soft drinks, chips and other snack foods in lieu of gambling. He said early estimates indicate it could raise $1 billion a year.

Given the state of public nutrition these days, at least one could argue that unlike most other proposed "solutions", this will not be a diminishing market. Maybe we should also scale back on the anti-junk food attacks on school vending machines. Heck, if this proposal becomes law, we ought to put more soda and snack machines in the schools. May as well get the students themselves to help pay for their schooling, right?

Hey, Kevin! Here's a proposal for you.

Texans would pay a $1 tax on most amusement events, whether it's a Dallas Cowboys game, a live music show or the ballet, under a provision tucked into the 370-page public school finance bill.

The bill, authored by Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, includes a $1 flat tax on professional sports events, amusement parks and any live concert, reading or play, including events by not-for-profit groups. Movie tickets were left out.

Only performances for public schools, colleges or charity events would be exempt. The extra buck would earn an estimated $47 million for public schools.


The prospect of a new $1 tax worries many involved in Texas performing arts.

Steve Wertheimer, owner of Austin's Continental Club, said that for a small venue, a $1 tax could amount to $500 to $700 per week, and club owners would have to decide whether it comes out of the public's, the club's or the musicians' pockets.

"It's hard enough to get people to pay five bucks to see six guys on stage trying to maintain their livelihood," Wertheimer said.

Welch said he doesn't think the $1 tax will hurt the club business.

Melissa Eddy, owner of Austin-based Pro Arts Management, offers services for small to midsize classical performing arts groups.

Eddy said that although paying a $1 tax might not add much to ticket prices, administering the tax could be difficult for volunteer and part-time staffs.

Philosophically, she added, the tax is wrong.

"It's sad enough that Texas state support for the arts is already so paltry," Eddy said. "To tax performances would add insult to injury."

Looks like the baby will be born at just the right time to curtail my social life. Yet another tax I can escape. Bring it on, fellas!

All of these ridiculous proposals, which if this is any indicator will cumulatively be more of a harm than a help to most people, show the folly of making property tax relief such an obsession. The reason people feel their property taxes are so high is because it's the only real non-federal tax anyone is paying around here. There's no state income tax, the corporate franchise tax is an easily-avoided joke, and the sales tax only applies to the diminishing economy of goods, not services. What else is left?

Either we care about educating a rapidly expanding population or we don't. The so-called leadership in Austin has made it clear that they have other priorities. All I can hope for right now is that they manage to not screw things up beyond repair.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 04, 2004 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

If the GOP can't do any better than this running the show, then they might not be running the show in the state for that long. Silver lining (for your cloud, at least)? :)

There will still be the opportunity to pass appraisal creep relief, claim success, and run off at some point, and if anything comes out of Austin, I think that's most likely. I'm not all that convinced that anything is going to come out of Austin, though.

If Perry can't even get that much, he's toast. I'm not convinced he needed this session to save himself, but having called it, he does need SOMETHING from it.

So is Bill White gonna run for Governor Kay Bailey's Senate seat? :)

Posted by: kevin whited on May 4, 2004 2:07 PM

Am I the only one that finds it ironic that the proposed tax on beer, wine , soda and snacks was made by a representative from Sugar Land? :-)

Seriously, though, if that proposal goes through, then I can see the Indian reservations offering Doritos on the web for Texans the same way they are cigarettes for New Yorkers.

Posted by: William Hughes on May 4, 2004 3:16 PM

this "entertainment tax" is just horrible...
A dollar tax on an expensive opera or ballet ticket might not be much, but a dollar tax on a five dollar rock show or a fifteen dollar play (go IBP! will just kill... right now folks are really scraping, and coming up with money to spend on culture outside the home isn't easy. It's much easier to rent a few dvd's and stay at home. In a city like Houston it's hard enough to get people to come out into the heat and be social.

don't support the arts,
but tax 'em...


love it...

Posted by: Mike Switzer on May 4, 2004 3:46 PM

As an employee of TAMU, I can't figure out why we don't tax the holy hell out of big-time college sports. Probably some legal problem, but big-time football and basketball are nothing but businesses in disguise.

Crazy Aggie and Longhorn football fans will pay damn near anything to watch their mercenaries play.

Posted by: Smirking Chupacabra on May 4, 2004 4:45 PM