Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Yo! U.S. Supreme Court, listen up! We may have a lap dance coming your way and we’re wondering if you’ll find it taxing.

I hate to repeat a tired cliche, but hey, you can’t make this stuff up. There’s a lawsuit brewing in Albany, New York’s state capital, where hookers and strippers have been doing their stuff ever since legislators from other cities in the state discovered that Albany was “out of town" – the legislative equivalent of a business trip with a high potential for mischief.

Seems that an exotic dance, umm, club named Nite Moves has been trying to get itself, and its admission fees, drink sales, tips, and whatever other revenues it takes in declared tax exempt. The reason, you see, is that New York State doesn’t tax “dramatic or musical arts performances,” and the pole and lap dancing that goes on at Nite Moves is, you know, artistic.

The state’s Court of Appeals split four to three in favor of falling off the bench and rolling around the floor, belly laughing. In other words, the court’s majority told the strip club to take their claim of tax exemption in the name of art and go stuff it in a G-string. The club owes the State of New York $125,000 in taxes and that’s that, said the majority.

That decision had at least one member of the minority choking, and not without cause.

“The people who paid these admission charges paid to see a woman dancing,” thundered judge Robert Smith. (Well, he thundered it in writing, but this is a story about the, uh, arts, so I’m taking a little artistic license here.) “It does not matter if the dance was artistic or crude, boring or erotic. Under New York’s tax law, a dance is a dance.”

He added that tax collectors shouldn’t be charged with deciding what’s a meritorious dance and what’s a … well, whatever a lap dance is that isn’t dancing. The judge has a point. Otherwise, the next supremely bored New York tax collector whose wife drags him to a performance of Les Sylphydes is likely to get so irate, he’ll slap the New York City ballet with a tax bill that’ll sink them and the tutus then danced in with.

The lawyer who argued the strip club’s case, Andrew McCullough, said he’s considering appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, but I don’t think so. The legal cost of a Supreme Court case is likely to run several multiples of Nite Moves’ tax bill, and in any case I'm not persuaded there's a Federal constitutional issue here. If the Nite Moves folks have any sense, they’ll follow the principle of law explained in an ancient vaudeville routine: Pay the two dollars.

P.S. I wrote this piece because last night was the final Obama-Romney debate. Every other blog in the universe is writing about debates and politics and polls and spinmeisters, and who’s lying. I can’t stand it any more.

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