Alexander Hamilton introduced the idea of federal taxes. Broadway producers enjoying a record season buoyed by his namesake musical are lobbying Congress to limit what they owe.
The industry, which will celebrate its success this weekend at the Tony Awards, is fighting to keep a provision that allows live-theater backers deductions in a show’s first year. That means they’d pay tax on income only after turning a profit. The provision passed in 2015, yet needs to be extended by Congress this year to survive.
In an industry where four of five performances close without recouping startup costs, producers say such a sweetener will keep the hits coming. While the provision was tacked onto a list of tax breaks last year at the behest of New York Senator Charles Schumer, there’s no guarantee it will be continued, producers and their lobbyists say. Some lawmakers don’t like the idea. Nor do advocates of tax cuts, who say such breaks make it more difficult to reduce the burden on everyone else.
“It’s crazy,” said Representative Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who says he opposes an extension. “With that kind of thinking, no matter what the circumstances, if you lose money, you can write that off. And who pays for it? Middle-class taxpayers.”
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based group that opposes government waste, says Broadway shouldn’t get special treatment.
“Everyone has a pet provision that they try to load into the tax law,” said Steven Ellis, spokesman for the group. “Why should a Broadway show, or television or movies, be considered different from any other business?”
Ten-Dollar Founding Father
At stake, according to Broadway producers, is the continued health of an industry that contributed more than $12 billion to New York City’s economy last year, bolstered by sold-out hip-hop musical “Hamilton” and other hits like “The Lion King” and “Wicked.” Producers say the industry’s high-risk nature precludes them from financing shows with money from banks or venture capitalists.
Aside from the daunting odds of scoring a hit, it’s struggling with increased costs, said producer Tom Viertel, whose credits include “Penn & Teller on Broadway,” “The Producers” and “Angels in America.” In the 2014-2015 season, Broadway investors lost more than $200 million on shows that didn’t make it, he said.
The IRS code made raising money even more difficult by requiring producers to estimate how long it would take for a show to recoup its initial capitalization, and based on that, investors would have to pay taxes on the show’s anticipated first-year profit, which producers called “phantom income.” If the show didn’t make money, investors could apply for refunds on their tax payments years later.