As a leader among arts and cultural organizations in Northwest Ohio, the Toledo Museum of Art has been actively engaged in the conversation surrounding Mayor Mike Bell’s proposed 8 percent Family Ticket Tax. While the Museum does not have a daily admission charge, we do have some programs and upcoming exhibitions that could be taxed under the proposal.
We have serious concerns about how this tax could negatively impact our fellow arts and cultural organizations that rely more heavily on ticket sales to meet their annual budgets.
While we are sympathetic to the very serious financial crisis facing the City of Toledo, we believe this tax will result in more lost revenue to the city than revenue gain. Tourism in Lucas County generates $1.6 billion a year in sales. It accounts for $421 million in wages, $208 million in taxes, and 19,000 jobs. Even a five percent reduction in business due to this tax would have significant implications for Toledo’s economy.
Cities such as Columbus and Mason, Ohio have studied and rejected entertainment taxes as being unproductive in the long run. Michigan twice defeated a proposed “fan tax”. While Toledo’s proposed tax is said to be modeled after taxes in Cleveland and Cincinnati, there really is no comparison.
Toledo has no major league sports franchises like Cleveland or Cincinnati, no giant amusement parks and no Broadway theaters driven by tourist dollars. State institutions such as The University of Toledo cannot be taxed by the city, and it is questionable whether county-owned venues like the new Lucas County Arena and Toledo Mudhens can be taxed by the City of Toledo.
So who’s left to tax? The proposed ordinance appears to be targeting non-profit organizations like the Museum, Toledo Symphony, Toledo Zoo, Toledo Opera, Toledo Rep, Imagination Station, Valentine Theater, Mud Hens, etc. All of these groups work diligently (and on very thin margins) to make Toledo a more livable city. Cleveland and Cincinnati exempt most non-profit arts and cultural organizations from taxation.
Entertainment taxes sound like “easy money” but have very real consequences over the long run. Many of the affected organizations report declines in ticket sales of up to 18 percent due to current economic conditions. Targeted organizations have already tightened their belts, implementing wage freezes and benefit cuts, and in some cases reducing staff and public hours. Higher ticket prices will further stress organizations that are crucial to the long-term success of this City.
City Council and the Mayor have some very tough decisions before them; the Family Ticket Tax should not be one of them. If the city cannot afford to financially support arts and cultural organizations in the city, we understand. But it should not penalize us.