At top, working people demand that the rich pay their fair share of taxes at a rally at City Hall on March 5. Local 802 musicians were present, including (below, from left) Richie Viruet, Carlos Jimenez, Kevin Bryan and Lewis Kahn.
Over the past four months, we at Local 802 and many others in the arts industry have been working hard in Albany and Washington to advance legislation that helps artists and to defeat proposals and resolutions that stand to do us harm.
Fortunately for us, we’ve been building a rapidly growing political action infrastructure for the past ten months.
As a result, when Gov. Paterson announced his austerity budget — which included cutting $7 million from the New York State Council for the Arts budget, imposing a tax on downloadable music and a ticket tax on Broadway shows, movies, and sporting events — we sprang into action.
We began with a mass e-mail campaign last November, alerting our members to the proposed NYSCA budget cut and asking them to e-mail and call our state lawmakers to object to any further cuts. (NYSCA had already sustained a $2.6 million cut last August.)
In January, we went to Albany to lobby the legislature to save the NYSCA budget. This was an important opportunity to meet face-to-face with many of our lawmakers and their senior staff to inform them on how significant an economic engine the nonprofit arts industry is in New York State. Our delegation included directors of nonprofit arts organizations as well as Local 802 members and staff.
For our second trip in February, we stepped up our game.
With the help of Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senator José Serrano, Bill Dennison was given the opportunity to present testimony to a joint meeting of two important committees. (See his column in the last issue.) He made a compelling argument for preserving the NYSCA budget and continued funding for the Empire State Film Production Tax Credit. Additionally, he laid out our case against the ticket tax given the devastating effects it would have on the funding of health and pension benefits for Broadway musicians.
For this visit, we made a full-throated condemnation of the ticket tax and the downloadable music tax. Our delegation again included Local 802 members and several founders and executive directors of nonprofit arts agencies.
Most importantly, we advocated hard for income tax fairness to help close the budget gap. This proposal, which enjoys strong support among lawmakers, would have required that all New Yorkers, particularly upper income residents, pay their fair share of income taxes, rather than forcing working families to shoulder the burden.
Unfortunately, we did not prevail with the NYSCA budget battle. On Feb. 3, the legislature cut $7 million from NYSCA’s budget for fiscal year 2008. Over 570 organizations were affected. While these groups were promised that they would get for the following year what they lost in ‘08, NYSCA starts fiscal year ‘09 with $16 million less than what it began with the previous year.
Our efforts against the ticket tax continued unabated. We asked our members once again to call and write our legislators. Many sent copies of what they wrote to my office. My in-box was overwhelmed!
In addition to our call to action via our e-mail newsletter 802 Notes, members David Hahn, Steve Mack and Ethan Fein came to the union to call many of our members whose e-mail addresses we didn’t have on file. The response was very enthusiastic and made it possible for us to enlist the help of hundreds of members who were previously not contacted.
I’m pleased to report that our efforts, combined with those of other unions, guilds, nonprofit arts organizations and industry officials, paid off. On March 11, Gov. Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced that this tax — along with 136 other “nuisance taxes” — was being rescinded. Included among these defeated proposals was the downloadable music tax.
On Monday, March 2, 2009, our work on behalf of our members and recording musicians nationwide brought a three-man team to Washington, D.C. Bob Cranshaw, Jimmy Owens and I traveled to Capitol Hill as part of the MusicFIRST Coalition to lobby the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations to support and pass the Performance Rights Act, which seeks to compensate performers whose work is broadcast over AM/FM (terrestrial) radio. The broader coalition included AFM members from Nashville, Minneapolis, Austin, Los Angeles, New York and Detroit as well as many songwriters, producers and publishers.
We were divided into teams, who were assigned to meet with members of Congress or their senior staff. My team included Bob Cranshaw, Suzanne Vega, her manager Michael Hausman, NARAS member Paul Katz and jazz flutist/vocalist Bobbi Humphrey.
We met with Congressman Rush Holt (D, NJ-12), and senior staff for Steve Israel (D, NY-2), and Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Most meetings were very positive. Congressman Holt was a very gracious host, and displayed a remarkable command of the salient details of the bill.
As a result of these efforts, the coaltion secured 15 more co-sponsors. Rush Holt and Steve Israel — who we had met with — signed on. So did New York reps Yvette Clark, Brian Higgins, Paul Tonko, Ed Towns and New Jersey rep Steven Rothman. Best of all, Charles Schumer signed on to the Performance Rights Bill in the Senate!
Not all members of Congress were equally enthusiastic. As a congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand had signed on the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) resolution opposing the Performance Rights Act. At the time of this writing, she has not indicated what position she will take in the Senate on this issue. And recently, Carolyn McCarthy (D, NY-4) of Garden City signed on to the NAB’s resolution. Local 802 President Mary Landolfi contacted the congresswoman, indicating our position, and requested a face-to-face meeting to discuss this matter in greater detail. As Allegro went to press, I had scheduled a meeting with her telecommunications staffer in Washington on March 31. My office will be monitoring her position very closely as well as that of our new junior senator. When action is necessary, you will hear from us.
It is Local 802’s position that the most effective method of lobbying our lawmakers at any level of government is to inform, educate and persuade in the most direct ways possible.
Moreover, we maintain that it is of the utmost importance to offer reasonable and workable alternatives to any harmful legislation. Imagine explaining to a lawmaker the negative impact of a piece of bad legislation on your livelihood after it is passed, and hearing: “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
Some organizations that would have been affected by the amusement tax (including some of our members) differed with us on this matter and voiced their opposition to this approach. However, the scores of lawmakers we met with took our view, and encouraged us to continue in this fashion.
At the end of the day, we point to the defeat of the amusement tax and the downloadable music tax and the growing support for State Senator Eric Schniederman’s “Fair Share Tax Reform Act of 2009”as validation of our strategy.
Citizen lobbying works and I’m grateful to the staff and members who stepped up to the plate in the spirit of service to the rank and file of our union. For those who remain skeptical or on the sidelines, the door is always open. The Local 802 Power Builders continues to develop effective messages and lobbying strategies. In doing so, we educate our members on the issues most relevant to us so they can do the same with their respective elected officials.
As usual, to get involved, contact me at Pmolloy@Local802afm.org or (212) 245-4802, ext. 176.