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Performers of Nimbus Dance Works, a New Jersey company that had advocated for a new arts tax.
Performers of Nimbus Dance Works, a New Jersey company that had advocated for a new arts tax.

Jersey City Voters Approve Tax Supporting the Arts, Opening Door for Similar Efforts

Residents of Jersey City, New Jersey, this week voted for a measure establishing a tax-fueled arts and culture trust fund that is expected to generate anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion annually. In approving the measure, voters set the precedent for other cities to support their own artists and arts organizations through similarly tax-funded efforts.

The nonbinding referendum, which to date was approved by 64 percent of voters (ballots are still being tallied), allows the city council (which must still vote to approve the measure) to levy an annual tax on property owners of one-half penny per hundred dollars of assessed property value. Thus, for example, the owner of a house worth $500,000 would pay just $25 a year. The collected revenue will be administered by a committee whose members will be appointed by the mayor and city council. The Jersey City Arts Council will put forth a member to represent the arts community.

The New York Times reports that Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop proposed the tax in 2018 in response to pressure from local arts leaders, with the idea that a stable revenue stream would mean the arts funding would remain secure regardless of the straits in which the city found itself. Because New Jersey municipalities aren’t allowed to put in place such a tax without approval by the state legislature, Fulop enlisted the aid of state representatives to draft a bill allowing cities to do so. The bill was ultimately signed into law by Governor Philip Murphy in January. Then, in April, with Covid-19 raging in the tri-state area, Fulop suggested pulling the measure, but relented when a poll commissioned by arts leaders revealed that support remained strong. Its approval comes as a welcome surprise at a time when many citizens are feeling the financial squeeze brought on by the chilling effects of the pandemic.

Speaking with Artnews earlier today, tax advocate Robinson Holloway, a former chair of the Jersey City Arts Council and the director of the nonprofit ArtFair 14C, said that she was humbled by voters’ generosity and expressed hope that other municipalities would follow Jersey City’s example. “This should slam the door on anyone thinking that the arts is an extra, a bonus, the first thing that should be cut,” she declared. “Our voters, during economic hard times and a pandemic and the largest election in a century, said, ‘Raise our taxes!’”