On the plus side, at least this time the brilliant aesthetes in Harrisburg didn't vote themselves a juicy pay raise.
Instead, in a last-minute quarterback sneak of budgetary maneuvers, legislators taxed culture - museums, music, the theater - all the things fancy-pants city slickers attend.
They avoided taxing manly-man pursuits like football, just as they didn't tax cigars (only cigarillos) because that might put a damper on their smoke-filled rooms.
They didn't tax movies, either, though attendance is up 9 percent nationally. Heaven forbid Harrisburg's Renaissance men pay more to drool over Jennifer's Body.
Instead, they won an 8 percent surcharge on tickets and membership at arts and cultural organizations in Philadelphia, 6 percent elsewhere, at a time when endowments are down, giving is down, and attendance is down. The taxes will create a new arts fund, which would return revenue to the arts. The logic is surreal.
"I don't know what Gov. Rendell and the leaders of the legislature were thinking," Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance president Peggy Amsterdam said before launching a "Fight the Arts Tax" movement at last night's fall meeting. "The really sad thing is we try to make cultural experiences accessible and affordable to everyone. This is going to make it harder." Increased ticket prices, she argued, will drive away even more patrons already hit by the recession.
Of the alliance's 390 member institutions, 40 percent are suffering deficits, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, with shortfalls of $3.3 million last fiscal year and a projected $7.5 million this year. It's like drawing blood from an anemic. Amsterdam says projecting $100 million in annual tax revenues is pure folly: "Our estimates are nowhere near that - maybe $20 million statewide."
Arts administrators complain there are no details on how much will be redirected or where. What's to prevent Republican lawmakers from taking Philadelphia Museum of Art revenues and shipping them, say, to the Enchanted Woodlins chainsaw carvings of Elk County?
"If this had been proposed totally across the board on all forms of entertainment, you might say, 'This stinks. It adds to our challenges, but these are really difficult times and we're all doing our share,' " said Cultural Alliance chairman Hal Real. "But it's not across the board. And it's symptomatic of how undervalued the arts are in our culture."
As opposed to sports. The state and city coughed up $181.2 million to build Lincoln Financial Field, basically a publicly financed private club where most of us will never score a ticket.
The irony is that Eagles fans will pay anything, go into debt, or refi, for the pure pleasure of watching their team get massacred as so much roadkill.
No one thought to tax the Penn State Nittany Lions, either. Because Beaver Stadium has more than 107,000 seats, a ticket tax could generate enough to fund Joe Paterno's salary and assist basic education throughout the state.
The governor and his staff are to be applauded for holding up the budget process to win $300 million in education funding. But you have to wonder how Rendell could turn around and allow such a punitive tax structure on the Avenue of the Arts or the Kimmel Center, which he and his wife championed in the first place. Perhaps he was so worn down from the fighting that he surrendered to the stupid, shortsighted, and misguided economics of the entire scheme.
The tax appears to be neither fair nor evenly distributed, since the burden falls largely on the state's two largest cities, another example of Harrisburg Republicans' us-vs.-them mentality. And it redefines the notion of a nonprofit.
If you were a deeply cynical sort of person, even someone with a fleeting knowledge of the sour feelings Republicans have for Philadelphia and Rendell, you might think this latest culture tax was a spirited flamenco dance atop the city's fiscal woes.