Detroit Today: Amusement taxes are common across the country. Why not in Detroit?

Detroit is an outlier from most major cities that host professional sports within its borders in that it does not share in the financial success of large-scale events it hosts.

Ford Field during a Detroit Lions home game on Nov. 19, 2023.

Ford Field during a Detroit Lions home game on Nov. 19, 2023.

As Detroiters ride the high from the Lions’ first playoff victory in more than 30 years over the weekend, the win has also brought up some crucial financial questions for the city’s fans and residents alike.

Amid their successful regular season campaign, the Lions announced a significant ticket price hike for the next season — a 30% average according to the team, with some fans facing increases up to 85% — but the city doesn’t benefit from all the tickets sold.

That fact makes Detroit an outlier from nearly every other city that hosts professional sports within its borders, as the city lacks an entertainment or amusement tax that would allow for the city to share in the financial success of its major events.

Despite several attempts to establish such a tax in Michigan, all have fallen short. But just last month, Detroit City Council’s Legislative Policy Division prepared a report on the potential impacts of implementing an amusement tax in Michigan.

Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson was joined Wednesday by Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan; Robin Boyle, a retired professor of Urban Planning at Wayne State University; and Charles Ballard, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, to discuss how an amusement tax would benefit the city and what lessons can be learned from other regions.

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Eric Lupher is the president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit research organization. He says the state has failed in its responsibility to share revenue with the city while also refusing to allow Detroit to lessen its burden by levying its own taxes.

“The quid pro quo was ‘no, you can’t have local taxes, but the state’s going to share money with you,” said Lupher. “And the state’s reneged on that promise.”

Robin Boyle is a retired professor of urban planning at Wayne State University. He says amusement taxes are a common way for local governments in states, like Maryland, to pay for city services.

“They have a statewide amusement tax that almost any municipality can tap into,” said Boyle. “We’ve had to fight and claw and scratch to get other funding mechanisms to come into the city to make up for the loss in population, the loss in businesses, and [loss in] income tax, which were all the three main elements over the latter half of the 20th century.”

Charles Ballard is a professor of economics at Michigan State University. He says while an amusement tax is smart policy, enacting new taxes are always difficult politically.

“Anytime you want to try to tax somebody who hasn’t previously been taxed,” said Ballard, “they will tell you that Western civilization will collapse if they are subject to a tax.”

Listen to Detroit Today with host Stephen Henderson weekdays from 9-10 a.m. ET on 101.9 WDET and streaming on-demand.

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