Don’t burn the Burners with taxes
We’re only a few days away from one of the most highly anticipated event weeks in all of Nevada: the week of Burning Man. Tens of thousands will flock to the Black Rock desert to party on the playa amid towering art installations, activities and commodities, which will be accessed through the makeshift city’s gift economy.
As anyone living in Northern Nevada can attest, the Burning Man festival draws many economic benefits to the business owners and culture of the area. From pre-festival Burners staying at local hotels, to dining in Reno restaurants, to buying playa gear at Walmarts and small local businesses, Burning Man tourism surges vital economic life into our local markets at the end of the summer.
The influx of Burning Man enthusiasts might mean an inordinate increase in the number of dreadlocks, neon tutus and dusty trailers around town, but the boost in local profits provides more than enough compensation. With nearly 60,000 visitors, there’s a lot of dough to be spent in the Biggest Little City. On top of the economic encouragement, a strong sense of community arises in the beautification of our town.
There have been talks in recent years about legislation regarding a Burning Man “live entertainment” tax, much like those instituted for casino shows. There has been a certain level of indignation about the potential tax. According to reporting done earlier this year by the Las Vegas Sun, Raymond Allen, Burning Man’s government relations manager, said the tax “doesn’t seem to apply to us. We fall into a different category. It’s a city.” He estimated the event pays about $4.5 million in fees each year to local, state and federal government entities.
A live entertainment tax isn’t the way to handle the wild success of a festival like Burning Man, seeing as the burden of the tax would fall onto Burners. As it stands, individuals already have to pay exorbitant costs to attend. With tickets at $380 for eight days, the festival is comparable to many other popular events like Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival, although still very expensive. But in addition to the ticket, the costs of travel, lodging and supplies can reach additional hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Also, Burners are not allowed to sell goods within the Black Rock City limits and must instead adhere to the gift economy, even though the event coordinators require U.S. currency to buy certain products on site, like ice or coffee.
For the photographers and writers who frequent the event, there is also very limited creative license that Burners must deal with. For example, tickets say that all photos taken by professional photographers become property of the Burning Man entity, and any photos sold must give a percentage of the sale back to the people who run the festival. Overall, Burners are highly limited on what they can make money from, but the spirit of social freedom and detachment from corporate capitalism is emphasized.
Meanwhile, everyone is trying to make money off of the event. And while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we have to remember that prices can only be driven up so high before demand drops, and the cash cow of Burning Man dies. As with most festivals, there’s a dual nature to Burning Man. On one hand, Burners want to have a pure—if not quasi-hedonistic—experience in the safety of a common community without the frills of corporate intervention. On the other hand, Burning Man is bigger than ever, and if there’s a way for it to be taxed and monetized into oblivion, then people are going to try to do so. For the benefit of the Northern Nevada economy, steady prices and low taxation at Burning Man must be maintained to keep people coming back.