SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—Last Saturday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill requiring all strip clubs in the state to pay an additional tax, whose revenue (if there is any) will be earmarked to programs that target sexual assault and counsel sexual assault victims.
The idea's been around for at least four years, and even though the tax proposed has increased 50 percent since then, from $2 to $3 per entrant, the latest wrinkle could have the clubs paying far more. Owners would have the choice of paying either the $3 per head, or a lump sum of $25,000 if the club's gross receipts are equal to or greater than $2 million; $15,000 if the receipts are between $500,000 and $2 million; or $5,000 if the receipts are less than $500,000—and there's a surcharge if the owner fails to pay the previous year's tax by January 20 of any given year. The law is slated to go into effect on January 1, 2013.
The new tax appears to be at least partly in response to the continuing economic recession, with the state's 33 rape crisis centers having lost one-quarter ($2.2 million) of their funding since the concept was first introduced. According to Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, "When a sexual assault victim goes to a police station or a survivor calls a hotline, we need trained staff ready to respond. This bill helps to keep lights on and doors open, jobs filled and responders trained."
By one estimate, the tax will raise about $1 million per year, though attendance at the clubs has been steadily dropping since the economy started heading into the toilet in late 2007; when one factors in the inevitable administrative costs associated with collecting and distributing the tax money, the crisis centers may see only a fraction of that amount.
Of course, club owner (and past ACE president) Michael Ocello has a problem with the alleged basis for the tax, noting that by singling out strip clubs for taxation assumes that there's a link between the clubs' existence and assaults on women.
"I certainly do not for a minute believe that our industry causes these problems," he said. "But one thing we do agree on is that rape crisis centers need to be funded. So, hopefully this will have an effect."
Also objecting was anthropologist Katherine Frank, who said that attempts to link violence against women directly to strip club customers (or even viewing porn) is "far too simplistic."
But the view from the Religious Right was equally skewed. Daniel Weiss, former Media and Sexuality Analyst for the far-right Focus on the Family (FotF), called the tax "a logical fallacy and a confused idea."
"It publically condones sexual injustice against women to avoid fiscal responsibility," he told FotF's "news-zine" CitizenLink. "I’m not a fan of this type of legislation. I would have expected a greater public awareness of the correlation between sexual exploitation and sexual violence... I just really feel that we’re missing the larger context. The entire public loses when the government legitimizes this type of legislation."
ABC News noted that Texas has already collected several millions since their "pole tax" was enacted in 2007, with an expected eventual total of about $44 million, and the city of Houston is currently considering a $5 per person surcharge on top of that to "help pay for rape testing kits for victims." No word on how much Utah's similar tax, enacted in 2004, has raised so far.
No one as yet has brought a challenge to these taxes before the U.S. Supreme Court, which in its more liberal days could have been expected to strike down the tax as unconstitutionally targeting a specific genre of speech, though it's anyone's guess how the current court would rule.