Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

City eyes couch dance tax

VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED: This article contains obscene/indecent mention of a sin tax.

City eyes couch dance tax

(AP File Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP File Photo/Charlie Riedel) AP

VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED: This article contains obscene/indecent mention of a sin tax.

“Even though all my stripper friends are gonna be mad at me, I think we can stimulate the economy with a tax on strippers.”

Those are the words of former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Luther Campbell.

You may not know Campbell by his real name, but those “Old Schoolers” like me remember him as 2 Live Crew rapper Luke Skyywalker, especially as he belted out the very relevant 1989 top-of-the chart classic, “Me So Horny.”

Well, Campbell/Skyywalker was right. He lost the erec election and only garnered 11 percent of the vote.

So much for his “pole” tax.

But his idea didn’t wilt away. In fact, it’s made its way all to the City of Stripperly Love.

Today, attorney George Bochetto told me via a telephone interview that his gentlemen’s club clients will be facing off for the first of many rounds with the city’s tax appeal board. The topic? Whether his clients will have to pay back taxes for “lap dances,” aka “couch dances.”

Huh? I’ll take “amusement taxes” for half a million, Alex.

Looks like City Hall believes that couch dances are subject to a 5 percent “admission fee” charge each time a dancer performs an individually metered dance.

Hmmm. I did an MBA, but I missed taking “Strip Club Economics 101.” But here’s my best stab at it.

Let’s say you pay $10 to enter a strip club. Five percent (or 50 cents) of that admission fee is collected under the amusement tax. But it doesn’t stop there. Each and every time a dancer does her best Nomi Malone imitation, the city is requiring the club – not the dancer (who is most likely an independent contractor) – to pay 5 percent on the entire amount of all the couch dances performed in that club.

Let’s say that 100 women do an average of 10 couch dances a night at a price of $20 each. Regardless of the commission cut between the dancers and the club (it’s usually a 75 percent split - $5 to the club and $15 to the dancer), the amusement tax requires the club to pay the tax on the entire $20 amount of each dance. So that’s a dollar per dance (usually a 3-4 minute song). So, in addition to the club already paying federal income tax, state income tax, city profits tax, city gross receipts tax, it now has to pay a tax per dance. In the example I provided, they’d have to pay an extra 100 x 10 x $1 = $1,000 tax. Charge that tax every day, and you’re talking $365,000/year. Merry Christmas! Ca-ching!

“Penelope” is the stage name of a former stripper from Cheerleaders who happens to be a Facebook friend of mine. She danced at the club 10 years ago.

“There should absolutely not be a 5% tax on lap dances," she maintains. "First of all, lap dances are too ambiguous. Lap dance activity happens all over the club in an effort to get the gentlemen to go back into the official lap dance room to pay a rate per song price.”

"A lap dance is entertainment but should not be taxed," said Frank Jacovini, a business owner in South Philly. "The city is outrageous; they don't know what to tax next. Tax and spend has been the mentality for way too long in Philly. What is it going to take for the citizens of this city to start to realize that elections have consequences?"

Bochetto sees several legal issues with this tax. First, he doesn’t see it as constitutional, saying it abridges free speech, is not enforced equally with other organizations, and is vague. “By its own terms, it does not apply to ‘legitimate’ theatre. What is ‘legitimate’ theatre?”

Bochetto gave the example of a piano bar, where you pay admission to enter and then pay, say, $2 for each song you request. In that instance, Bochetto said the city is not applying the amusement tax to the song selections.

I’ll request this song, please.

Additionally, Bochetto has issues with the ordinance itself, believing – as I do – that once you charge an admissions charge, you can’t charge a second one.

Penelope agrees, telling me, “And it would be an excuse to raise the expense of the girls to work there. They don't work there for free. House fees range from $30-$100. Then you have to tip out the DJ. Everyone is just going to want more and the dancer will be shortchanged …  These are good women who, though it’s probably not what they thought for themselves, are just trying to make a living.”

I agree. Now if the tax folks would just ease off the clubs and its workers, we’d all be better off. Don’t the taxing authorities have anything better to do, like go after the real estate tax deadbeats? And while we’re at it, why not let me write off my lap dance expenses in researching this story, so that perhaps I, too, can make a living. :)

John Featherman
About this blog
John Featherman is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about politics and consumer-related issues. Reach John at john@featherman.com.

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