Every theater in Michigan should sit down today and write thank-you letters to Mike Ilitch, Ilitch Holdings, Bill Davidson and Palace Sports & Entertainment.
Because without their leadership and intense, behind-the-scenes lobbying, every theater in the state would soon be charging a six-percent sales tax on every ticket they sell.
And I can only imagine what a mess THAT would have created!
With a potential of an estimated $48 million of added revenue coming in to the state's cash-starved coffers, it's easy to see why Michigan's House was anxious to extend the sales tax to include theater and entertainment services. (Tickets to sporting events would have added yet another estimated $24 million to the state treasury.)
But quick and decisive action by the rare team-up of rivals Ilitch and Davidson killed the effort - not once, but at least twice, most recently earlier this week when last minute budget negotiations reportedly revived talks on the subject.
It was a hard-fought battle, and they successfully rallied the troops - mostly sports fans, apparently - to let their voices be heard. (Escort services couldn't muster the same, for some reason!) And for that, every theater in town should be grateful!
Without their hard work, many theaters already struggling to stay alive would have had to face even greater financial pressures - and greater costs - to meet the new state requirements.
Sure, a 30-cent tax on a $5 ticket might not be much, but what about $1.20 on a $20 ticket? Or $1.80 on a $30 ticket? Or $3 on a $50 ticket? That adds up when you consider that most tickets are bought in pairs. And many are sold through subscriptions, which would have increased THOSE prices rather dramatically, as well.
State House officials tried to paint their efforts to expand the sales tax as an effort to tax "luxuries." But since when is attending a theater performance or a sporting event a luxury? I don't know how often our state elected policitians attend a professional theater performance, but looking at the audiences last Friday night at The Zeitgeist and Saturday night at the Marygrove Theatre, I saw primarily working class people, young people and members of the sought-after creative class. (In fact, the leader of a large group of students from Wayne County Community College Saturday night explained to me that he chose that show in part because of the affordable ticket price.)
Nowhere did I see the snooty rich, the people who fit the image our politicians were trying to create in order to get the public to buy in to their budget plan.
A potential drop in ticket sales were not the only problem facing theaters, however.
If the sales tax on theater and entertainment had passed, all theaters would have had to collect those taxes, account for them and then report and file them. And to do so would likely have increased costs. After all, theaters would now need someone - an accountant, probably - to handle the increased workload. And THAT costs money! (And to be totally honest, the history of Michigan theaters is littered with the corpses of companies that failed to pay their FEDERAL taxes, and they paid the ultimate price for their negligence. I suspect the same would have happened on the state level, as well.)
So if every theater executive hasn't already done so, I suggest they get out pen-and-paper right now and get those thank-you letters written. Because NEXT time our greedy politicians look for a pocket to pick, they might be found digging around in YOURS! And you just might want Mike and Bill to save yours asses once again!