Death and Taxes

For those of you who don’t keep tabs on my performer’s union, this is the official statement which AEA Treasurer Sandra Karas issued about the tax reform bill currently making its way through what passes through the federal government these days. Among other things, this bill does away with itemized business deductions, which would result in enormous changes in the performing arts. Note that this text refers specifically to the original Senate bill (the original statement was posted on November 30), but the issues it’s referring to haven’t changed with the reconciliation process:

“Senate Republicans, like their House colleagues have stabbed us in the back. The Senate bill eliminates the deductions for ordinary and necessary business expenses, including agent fees, audition costs, research, coaching and classes and transportation, among other expenses, which will raise taxes and make it harder for actors and stage managers to maintain their viability in the marketplace.

“It is important that we maintain our skilled performing work force of artists all across the country. Equity’s talented actors and stage managers are middle-class employees who work in jobs that cannot be outsourced. They are the primary drivers of a nationwide industry that countless Americans have come to rely on for entertainment in their own communities, every day and night.

“This latest tax bill as written not only doesn’t provide the relief for Equity’s middle class workers, but by raising costs for thousands of artists, puts our entire industry at risk.”

Background: Like so many who work in the entertainment industry, actors and stage managers often incur significant expenses such as transportation costs when they audition or work out of town. Itemized deductions help level the playing field for workers like actors who are required to spend a large portion of their income on business expenses. (This paragraph was attached as part of the original post by way of explanation – you can see the original here.)

To which I would add that it’s much worse than this statement makes it seem.

Because in order for the shows that provide employment (and warrant all of these business expenses) to exist, they have to be funded. And outside of the world of commercial Broadway productions (which is admittedly what Equity is built around), the bulk of that funding comes from charitable contributions of one form or another, from individuals, estates, foundations, and corporations. And the same removal of itemized deductions that affects business expenses applies to those contributions as well. Meaning the financial incentive to make those contributions no longer exists – and the expected loss to charities (and arts organizations) is expected to number in the billions. In practical terms, this ultimately means a large number of job opportunities are simply not going to be there anymore, the funding wiped out.

Do you care?

It’s understandable if you don’t. These are scary times, with a ludicrous amount of things happening all at once, and human nature is such that we retreat into ourselves at times like these. We tend to only care about our own experiences, the things we personally value. It’s a huge problem in a world as interconnected as ours – hell, it’s a large part of why this is happening in the first place – but so long as it’s the case we have to account for it. So if the words of my union’s treasurer don’t have much sway with you, let me put this in terms of something that I know you do value.

This blog. (After all, you’re reading it right now.)

Ultimately, this website – blog included – is a promotion for my creative efforts. A business expense. Which means that if this bill becomes law, its monthly maintenance couldn’t be tax-deductible. Now, I’m not inclined to discontinue either the blog or the website regardless of what happens – and at the moment, I’m not receiving enough income as a performer to qualify for the deductions anyway (don’t worry about me, I have a lovely day job). But that’s not true of everybody who uses the web service I do. This website, along with many others, are maintained by a friend of mine whose business specializes in websites for performing artists. If it’s no longer financially viable for artists to maintain those websites, my friend’s business suffers. And if that business is no longer there to support this website, then this blog may no longer be here for you to read.

And I haven’t even begun to get into how net neutrality law changes might affect things. Or how we’re supposed to deal with actual restrictions on words (for government agencies – at least for now).

Whatever you can do about this, however insignificant, please do it while you still can.

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