Sunday, February 2, 2003

Funds for 'Cultural Trust' discussed

It would likely require another tax to operate

By Cliff Peale
The Cincinnati Enquirer

New taxes probably would be required to fund a "Cincinnati Cultural Trust" that would develop and market the Tristate's cultural institutions, but supporters are months away from proposing that step.

A tax on admissions or entertainment sales. This clearly is the option most favored by supporters of the Cultural Trust. Cincinnati's existing admissions tax rate is lower than most cities with which it competes.
An "overlay district sales tax" that would add to sales taxes in a defined area, probably downtown.
A hotel/motel tax. One problem is that this tax was just increased to help pay for an expansion of Cincinnati's downtown convention center.
A restaurant tax.
Local business and civic leaders are floating the proposal for the cultural trust, hoping to generate broad support for more aggressively marketing and propping up what they call the region's biggest competitive advantage.

Their next step is the most difficult: Gaining support for a tax that would generate the several million dollars a year the trust would need to operate.

While specific proposals won't be ready for months, the leading contenders appear to be taxes on tickets or restaurants

A broad-based sales tax is less likely.

Proponents insist that creating economic development out of local arts and cultural institutions is critical, particularly with openings such as the new Contemporary Arts Center or the Cincinnati Art Museum's Cincinnati Wing scheduled this year.

"The fact of the matter is, additional revenue has to be brought to the table," said Louise Stevens, president of ArtsMarket, a consultant hired last year by the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Greater Cincinnati Foundation to study the options.

The CBC and the foundation are sure to meet resistance from those opposed to new taxes. But city officials have made it clear that increasing funding for cultural institutions is a priority.

"The way you make it palatable is to sell the advantages," said Jim Tarbell, chairman of City Council's Arts and Culture committee, who met with Stevens last week. "This is clearly a case where you've got a wonderful product to sell. As long as people have all the information, I don't think this is going to be terribly difficult."

Chris Finney, vice chairman of the anti-tax group Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), said the group would oppose any new taxes to fund arts and culture projects.

"COAST is adamantly opposed to spending government money on arts projects, period. It is a total waste of money," Finney said.

Foundation president Kathy Merchant said it was too soon to discuss funding options, but said the hostility toward new taxes shouldn't stop the idea.

"We can't let the research and planning stop because it's an ultra-challenge right now," Merchant said.

Stevens, who will return to Cincinnati later this spring to continue advocating for the proposal, said there were an entire range of options used in other cities.

For example, a 0.5 percent sales tax in Pittsburgh generates $6.7 million a year for the arts, while in San Francisco, a tax on hotel rooms generates more than $20 million. Most of those dollars are used to support arts and culture.


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