Amusement Tax Bemusement

If getting Knoxville a new convention center is truly Mayor Victor Ashe's top priority, then he should be looking for every way he can to make the city a more attractive destination for convention-goers.

Fostering the city's nightlife certainly ought to be high on the list. Yet in a disconnected sort of way, city officials persist in singling out small clubs that offer jazz, blues, rock and other genres of live entertainment for a 5 percent tax on their admission and cover charges.

Except for booze, the only other line of business that's subject to such a local tax is hotels and motels. But proceeds from the hotel/motel tax are dedicated to promoting tourism (and presumably overnight stays) whereas amusement tax revenues go into the city's coffers for unrestricted use. Moreover, while most cities around these parts have comparable hotel/motel taxes, Knoxville is the only one that imposes an amusement tax.

All of the larger halls in town have managed to get exempted from the amusement tax. So when stellar attractions are booked at Thompson-Boling, the Civic, the Tennessee, the Bijou or the World's Fair Park, the city doesn't get any of the take. But these exemptions, granted in the name of putting Knoxville on an equal footing with surrounding cities, only sharpen the competitive disadvantage of smaller music venues like Lucille's, Manhattan's, Sassy Ann's, the Mercury Theater and Barley & Hopps.

City officials claim they don't get complaints about the tax and doubt whether a 5 percent surcharge is consequential to nightclub patrons or proprietors. If the revenues at stake were consequential to the city, such defenses of the levy might be warranted. But the vast majority of the tax's million-dollar annual take comes from movie theaters and UT athletic events.

Nightclubs should be exempted from this patently discriminatory deterrent to the development of the city's entertainment scene.

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