Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Dozens shimmy in dance tax protest

Melissa Petersen and Kevin Buster dance on the steps of the capitol in Olympia, Washington (AP)
People dance on the steps of the capitol in Olympia, Washington, to protest against a decades-old state tax on dance venues (AP)

Dozens of people protesting against a decades-old state tax on dance venues swayed to the rhythm in support of a repeal being considered by politicians at the Washington state capitol.

Koe Suzuteki performed the Charleston on the steps of the capitol amid the groups who had gathered to dance in protest.

"Dance encourages social culture, getting into your body and being out in the town, spending money on local nightlife. It's a wonderful way to connect and it makes people smile," said the Seattle resident, who goes dancing twice a week. "Why are those always the things that need to be taxed and pushed away?"

Washington state has had the tax, which targets venues that provide an opportunity to dance, since the 1960s. A measure to repeal it has cleared a committee and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate.

Proponents of the repeal say enforcement of the tax is arbitrary, targeting medium-sized venues and not places such as sports stadiums that often host concerts.

"Some places are being charged for this tax for some shows and not for other shows. It's completely arbitrary," said Hallie Kuperman, who owns the Century Ballroom in Seattle. Her venue was charged nearly a quarter of a million US dollars (£164,000) in back taxes, but negotiated it down to about 90,000 dollars (£59,000), she said. Supporters of her business were raising money to pay the tax bill.

Department of revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow said in a statement that the tax "applied to certain recreational activities since the 1960s, and our job is to ensure that businesses comply with those laws".

He 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," he said.

According to state estimates, repealing the tax would cost the state more than 880,000 dollars (£577,000) in the 2013-2015 budget cycle. Because the measure affects the budget, it remains alive until the waning days of the legislative session.

"If we win, we'll win it towards the end," said the repeal's sponsor, senate minority leader Ed Murray, of Seattle.

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