CHICAGO PROGRESS-LED HIP-HOP TAX REVOLTGETS COOK COUNTY BOARD’S EAR
By Mark F. Armstrong
CHICAGO–The movement and Cause by the local urban fine arts community toward exemption of small nightclub venue DJ’ed events from the Cook County amusement tax got off to a magnanimous start at the Oct. 5 Cook County Board of Commissioners Finance Committee (Committee of the Whole) meeting, partly characterized by Chicagoland’s world-class electro-reggae torch bearer supporting testimony on behalf of a coalition of Minuteheads, prepared to organize at a moment’s notice, led by Chicago Progress.
Meanwhile, one Northwest Side small venue club planning to demonstrate a week before the Cook County Board’s Finance Committee and regular meetings with the closest thing to a floor show at the offices of the county department that adjudicates delinquent amusement tax cases.
During the Cook County Board’s Finance Committee meeting, Chicago Progress member and blogger Mark F. Armstrong appealed to the county commissioners and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, on behalf of the local urban fine arts community, for approval of a draft proposed amendment to the county amusement tax ordinance sponsored by Commissioners John A. Fritchey (D-12) and Sean M. Morrison (R-14) that would define DJ’ing as a fine art and exempt DJ’ed events with audience capacities of 750 and less from the tax. The current 3 percent tax is applied to admission prices for all DJ’ed events, but live band events are exempt. The proposed draft amendment would also reduce the amusement tax rate to 1.5 percent for DJ’ed events with audience capacities of more than 750 but less than 2,000.
Fritchey, a North Center-based attorney who frequently attends local musical hep club concerts, represents a mostly North Side district characterized by clubs that regularly offer DJ’ed events. Morrison is security firm owner based in southwest suburban Palos Park who represents a district that encompasses the western edge of Cook County and who makes fiscal responsibility and innovative reform the keystones of his agenda.
“Small venue DJs are also small business folk who can barely afford paying an existing gauntlet of special district, municipal, county, state and federal taxes required for pursing their art, along with the increasing cost of living without their already rationed slice of the piece of pie reduced to a sliver because taxes on tickets and other forms of admission at clubs have become disincentives for healthy-sized audiences to attend their performances,” Armstrong advised the committee.
The full written version of Armstrong’s testimony entered into the record can be read HERE
After that testimony, a jovial MC Zulu (Dominique Rowland) shook Armstrong’s hand, patted him on the back and declared “I’m proud of you” before dashing off from the committee meeting.
In written testimony entered into the record in his absence, roots and culture reggae artist and Simmer Down Sound events impresario Cosmos Ray asked the commissioners and Preckwinkle to not broaden the tax and described the County Board’s efforts at defining fine arts as “insulting and absurd.” The full written version of Ray’s written testimony entered into the record can be read HERE.
The Cook County Board Finance Committee agreed by acclamation to hold the draft proposed county amusement tax amendment in committee so that Fritchey can add language that would make enforcement of the county tax uniform and consistent with that of a similar Chicago ordinance. Fritchey said that a Cook County administrative hearing officer, who adjudicates scofflaw county amusement tax cases, lacks clear-cut guidance on making rulings on such tax delinquency cases.
“She is making rulings as evidence that hasn’t been presented,” Fritchey said. “Trust me on this [legislative move to correct the county amusement tax ordinance’s deficiencies regarding small venue DJ’ed events].”
The draft of the proposed Cook County amusement tax ordinance amendment discussed at the Oct. 6 County Board Finance Committee meeting can be read on finance-agenda-10-5-16. In the amendment’s preamble is a brief legislative history of the 19-year-old ordinance’s evolution to its current language, including a reference to a 1998 amendment exempting venues with audience capacities of 750 and less and a reference to a 1999 amendment that defines “live performances by examples giving several genre examples and art forms including live musical performances, but does not restrict to only those examples by including the encompassing term ‘music.'” That preamble also maintains that “the current language contained in the County Code has created unintended and unnecessary confusion as to what constitutes ‘music’ and has created undue burdens on venue operators who are being required to comply with inconsistent definitions, restrictions and exemptions by the county and the city of Chicago.”
The Cook County Board Finance Committee and full Cook County Board of Commissioners would next take up the draft proposed county amusement tax amendment at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Wed., Oct. 26, in the County Board Room, 5th Fl., Room 569, Cook County Bldg., Chicago. Details of those meetings, including their agendas, can be found HERE.
To testify before the committee and board on the proposed amendment, download a testimony request form HERE, complete it and email it to the secretary to the Cook County Board of Commissioners at cookcountyil.gov. Also email in absentia testimony there.
Just days before those deliberative Cook County Board and committee meetings, Noble Square-based Beauty Bar nightclub is organizing a demonstration from 2-4 p.m. Mon., Oct. 24, during an amusement tax hearing at the Cook County Administrative Hearings Department, 11th Fl., Room 1120, Cook County Bldg., in the form of a DJ mini-exhibition. Beauty is appealing an estimated $200,000 in years of unpaid county amusement taxes county attorneys say the club owes on DJ’ed events. Cook County administrative hearings are quasi-judicial civil proceedings, where all testimony is taken under oath and recorded. Procedures for county administrative hearings can be found HERE.