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Editorial: Review Lollapalooza tax break

Friday, January 20, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Back when Lollapalooza was just an idea that might go somewhere with a little encouragement, it made sense to exempt it from the county’s amusement tax. But now that the summer music fest has turned into a big-ticket event, that might not make much sense anymore.

County Commissioner Bridget Gainer has introduced a plan to require the County Board to sign off on amusement tax exemptions for big events. The cutoff would be set at $150,000 or more, just as the County Board must sign off on contracts of that amount or larger.

At a time when the county is squeezing every dollar trying to balance its budget, this makes sense. As the Chicago Sun-Times has reported, the city and county have been granting amusement tax exemptions for Lollapalooza for seven years. In 2011, the tax break was worth $1 million.

The event’s promoter pays to clean up afterward and gives a donation to the Parkways Foundation, the Park District’s nonprofit fund-raising arm. But that money doesn’t go to the county, according to Gainer, who says Lollapalooza now is “wildly profitable.”

The city also is looking into the issue. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he would ask the City Council to appoint a “third-party, independent” negotiator to explore changes to the city’s share of the festival’s multimillion-dollar exemption.

Lollapalooza has become a bright spot on the city’s annual music calendar, drawing crowds of people downtown, and we’d like to see it stick around. But nothing in Gainer’s proposal requires the County Board to change the tax exemption. It just creates a sensible way to review it each year.

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