City officials argue that the fees patrons pay strippers to undulate atop them are subject to the 5 percent amusement tax, which applies to ballgames, concerts, movies, and other diversions. They say an audit found that three strip clubs owe about $1.5 million.
The clubs maintain that they pay the tax on door charges but don't owe it on dance fees, which are split between the strippers and the venues. Last week, in a bravura performance before the city's Tax Review Board, lawyers representing Club Risque, Delilah's, and Cheerleaders argued that their services fall under an amusement-tax exemption for "legitimate contemporary American theater."
Expert witness Katherine Profeta, a Queens College drama professor, directed the board's attention to the "technical virtuosity" on display in this "multifocal, immersive theater experience." Even less convincingly, attorney George Bochetto noted, "American contemporary theater has lots of exotic-type things, sexually provocative things, a great deal of nakedness." He added, "There are many plays on Broadway which ... are designed for sexual arousal" - none of which means you should attempt to reward anyone in the cast of Death of a Salesman by sticking a twenty down his drawers.
Bochetto has been publicly and vociferously objecting to this supposed attack on the arts since the Daily News first reported the story. Meanwhile, the city declined even to explain its side for more than a week. A city lawyer did, however, materialize at last week's hearing to note helpfully that lap dancing suffers by comparison with classical ballet.
City Hall often seems more willing to create and raise taxes than to collect them; property and parking taxes are among the most famously ignored. All told, the city is owed an estimated half a billion dollars in revenue.
Mayor Nutter and City Council have begun to address this, including by hiring the city's first chief collection officer. It's another encouraging sign that Philadelphia's tax laws - much like lap dancing - are not theater.