Dozens shimmy, shake to protest state's dance tax

OLYMPIA, Washington (AP) - Dozens of people protesting a decades-old state tax on dance venues swayed to the rhythm on Monday in support of a repeal being considered by lawmakers 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 like 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 Ms Hallie Kuperman, who owns the Century Ballroom in Seattle.

Her venue was charged nearly a quarter million dollars in back taxes, but negotiated it down to about US$90,000 (S$111,612), 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 US$880,000 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 toward the end," said the repeal's sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray of Seattle.

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