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Evanston aldermen tonight are scheduled to discuss ways they could expand the city’s amusement tax to reach more entertainment venues.

Aldermen increased the rate charged for the amusement tax from 4% to 5% late last year as part of the 2020 budget process.

Chicago charges a 9% tax on amusements while Cook County charges 3%.

Other municipalities with amusement taxes include Bloomington and Wheeling, both at 4%.

Skokie officials, when the village board there adopted a new 2% tax on amusements last year, said that more than a dozen Chicago-area communities have such a tax.

Amusements are not subject to state and local sales taxes in Illinois — although those taxes do apply to food and other tangible items provided along with a performance. The combined state and local sales tax rate in Evanston now stands at 10.25%.

Each municipality has its own set of exemptions from its amusement tax — usually exempting some non-profit organizations or smaller venues or both.

Chicago, apparently alone among Illinois municipalities, has added coverage of online streaming services, like Netflix, to its amusement tax. It also taxes participatory events like pub crawls, tours and recreation classes that aren’t hit by Evanston’s ordinance.

And Skokie taxes items not covered in Evanston’s — including “virtual reality games, video games, internet cafe games, pinball machines or arcade games.”

Evanston’s amusement tax doesn’t cover athletic events — but it imposes two other taxes, totaling 12%, on such events.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, last fall suggested lifting the amusement tax exemption for some non-profit groups — including Theo Ubique on Howard Street and Northlight Theatre, assuming it completes its planned move back to Evanston.

But Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he wouldn’t want the tax, for example, to hit the YAMO student production at Evanston Township High School.

City staff tonight will seek guidance from the aldermen on what provisions they’d like to include in a revised amusement tax ordinance, or whether they want to leave the existing tax unchanged.

Related story

City looks to tax non-profit theater groups (11/19/19)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. Amusement Tax Thoughts (Film Is Art, Too)

    Keeping the non-profit exemption is good.  But it should also include non-profit cinemas and film screenings.

    The size limit of 100 is not ideal (and so much more restrictive than Chicago and Cook County).  But it will allow small storefront theatre and other cultural activities.  Here, too, we should include filmmakers and video artists.  100 seats is very small.  The city can still tax Century theatres.  

    The Amusement Tax can’t just be about getting hands on more revenue.  How a city regulates and taxes the arts has a great impact on what art happens and where artists live.  The reality is that Northwestern is one of the world’s great theatre schools.  Chicago is one of the world’s great arts cities.  Evanston’s easy access to great culture makes it easy to forget that not a lot of it is happening off-campus.

  2. Alternatively, the city could

    Alternatively, the city could take a meaningful look at level-setting its cost structure to be in line with economic realities.  The $10m of tax revenue being earmarked for reparations over the next 10 years places another economic reality in the arena. 

    As a recent thread in Nextdoor debated — should the city prioritize spending $$ on trees or on humans?  

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