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Committee bill would eliminate state venue tax, in favor of local one

 Committee bill would eliminate state venue tax, in favor of local one

Manchester Journal Inquirer, April 2, 2016

By Mike Savino

HARTFORD — The legislature’s tax-writing committee voted Thursday in support of legislation that would end a statewide tax on admissions to sports and other events, instead allowing municipalities to levy the fee.

The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, which approved the bill 36-14, supported the change while considering one of two bills proposing special treatment for a specific venue.

The state already provides exemptions to some stadiums, but supporters of the bill said it’s that very approach that they want the state to halt. “I’m very concerned about the whole admissions tax in general, of how it’s been implemented over the last few years,” said Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington. “It’s a perfect example of what is wrong with our state tax policy,” he also said, adding that the state changes its application based on the requests of individual venues.

The change — the bill would technically exempt all venues from the state tax — came as an amendment to legislation that would exempt the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford. The state already provides statutory exemptions for the XL Center in Hartford and Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.

A second proposal this year would take revenue generated from Dunkin’ Donuts Park, slated to open this spring, and return the revenue to Hartford. The bill approved Thursday instead would allow host municipalities to charge a tax of up to 10 percent on tickets, the same rate the state currently levies.

Kevin Maloney, spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, applauded the amendment as a “first step in revenue diversification” for cities and towns. “It will be especially useful for urban centers,” Maloney said. Some municipal leaders have asked for the ability to levy an admission tax specifically to help recover the costs associated with larger events.

$2 million from admissions tax back to top

The state generates roughly $2 million from the admissions tax, but Hartford officials have projected ticket sales to Yard Goats games at Dunkin’ Donuts Park alone could produce more than $400,000 in tax revenue.

Some members of the committee raised concerns about the bill, though, including members who wanted to make sure some events remain exempted from the tax. Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, said the bill should maintain an existing exemption for nonprofit events that charge admission fees of no more than $5.

The legislative legal staff still was writing the language Friday, so committee members weren’t able to see the exact wording of the amended bill. Others also said they didn’t want to see municipalities have the ability to levy the tax on youth sports or other nonprofit activities that are currently exempt.

Rep. Jeffrey J. Berger, D-Waterbury, committee co-chairman, said the intent of the bill is not to allow for such an expansion, and he and others will review the language to prevent that. Davis was among those who share the concern, and he said Friday the bill should also treat college events differently from professional.

Many venues, including Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford and multiple venues on the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus, host both professional and collegiate sporting events and performances. Davis said there are roughly 40 venues across the state that are currently subject to the admission tax, and the bill needs to be crafted in a way that it doesn’t allow municipalities to expand its scope.