Friday, November 26, 2010

Five Questions to Ask About Raising Taxes for the Detroit Symphony

In an attempt to end the Detroit Symphony strike, a Michigan state representative wants to make it possible for people in three area counties to vote to help fund the orchestra with a small increase in their property taxes.

It's worth considering: orchestras, privately run as non-profits, are nonetheless civic institutions, and there's no reason why property owners shouldn't pay a little bit for something that improves the cultural life of their city (and their property values). The tax increase would be small, only about $20 on an assessed $100,000 worth of real estate (by my calculations, so I could be way off).

Assuming such an initiative goes before the public, here are some questions to ask before voting on it:

1. Is the orchestra an essential service? These are tough times for Detroit, and before voting to saddle neighbors with an added expense, it's worth asking if the orchestra is something that the area absolutely needs.

2. How much government money already goes to the orchestra? The Detroit Symphony has taken some hits, delivered by the musicians, for mishandling its budget. Instead of raising taxes, perhaps local governments should pressure the orchestra's financial managers to more responsibly account for how they use public money.

3. Is this a symbolic act? It's great to show your love, but such as small amount may do little to solve the problems the orchestra faces.

4. Will this money really go to the orchestra? Can the municipal government take the money and appropriate it for something else? What are the guarantees?

5. In the end, will it really make any difference?

Any more questions? I'd love to hear your thoughts.