Let me just say this outright: Sin taxes make me hugely uncomfortable. Giving state lawmakers the power to decide what legal activities are morally objectionable and to then fine the perpetrators creates one banana-peel-littered, Vaseline-coated slope. Case in point: Texas lawmakers are angling to institute a $5 tax on admissions to strip clubs and funnel the funds -- an estimated $80 million over two years -- to sexual assault programs.
In 2004, a similar strip club tax was proposed as a way to increase funds for Texas' public schools, reports the Houston Chronicle. That bill was rightfully derided as the "tassels for tots" program and failed in the Legislature. Rep. Ellen Cohen, who is backing a new bill, said tying the tax to children's education inspired "a visceral response, it was like 'ewww.'" Somehow, abused women seemed better poster children for the strip club tax because, as Cohen says, it's "apples to apples."
Despite what seems a pretty clear suggestion to the contrary, Cohen says she is not arguing that strip-club goers contribute to sexual abuse or violence. "We are talking about a service that does objectify women and it seems like an appropriate place to raise those kinds of dollars," she said. She also told the Dallas Morning News: "I do know that money is being made as a result of women being objectified." (In that case, why not go so far as to apply a sin tax on Texas' 41 Hooters restaurants?) Sen. Royce West is formulating similar legislation that would actually require "all sexually oriented businesses to pay an annual $5,000 registration fee." What's next -- levying a tax on dirty magazines, porno flicks and erotic novels? Why, yes, actually. West is considering throwing in a tax on anything sold at an adult video or bookstore.
Let's recap: The lawmakers pushing this sin tax don't believe strip-club goers actually contribute to sexual violence, just that they objectify women by watching them dance topless. So, the reasoning goes, they should help fund sexual assault programs, since they have -- what? -- furthered the devaluing of women as human beings within our culture by treating them as sex objects (or supporting a business that does). If that's seriously the argument being made here, applied consistently, the question isn't who would be taxed but who wouldn't?
These bills aren't concerned for the women dancing at these topless clubs -- they just happen to be the most powerful and convenient political tool available. If there was a serious concern about strip club dancers being exploited at work -- by either patrons or employers -- Texas lawmakers would be crafting legislation that targeted and cracked down on such abuse. Clearly, we're all fans here of publicly funded sexual assault programs -- but that's not the point! At best, the proposals are nonsensical; at worst, their implicit suggestion that strip-club goers and all buyers of legal sexual entertainment are either abusers or contributing to abuse is outrageously offensive and groundless.