Tax That Stripper!
Bubbles Burbujas is a Texas-based stripper. In high school, she spent a summer working for a state representative. Today, she dances at clubs across the country.
In Texas, strip clubs must pay a so-called “pole tax.” The Sexually Oriented Business Fee Act collects money ($5 a customer) from Texas gentleman’s clubs that feature nudity and serve alcohol and uses the funds to assist the state’s anti-sexual assault programs and help low-income residents pay for health care. For years, the act, which was passed in 2007, was caught up in court actions after a club owner asserted the tax impinged upon First Amendment rights; since, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled the tax would stand. Advocates of the tax claim clubs must pay for the negative secondary effects the clubs supposedly cause in their communities. Most recently, Illinois has imposed a similar tax.
Here, Bubbles reveals what it’s like to work with a pole tax.
What’s a “pole tax”?
In Texas, the pole tax is a $5 surcharge added to the club’s cover charge and is supposed to be charged to each customer who walks through the door. The money from the pole tax is supposed to go to low-income health insurance and programs that combat sexual assault. While the tax is being collected, the continuing appeals mean that none of it has been spent.
You work in Texas. How has the tax impacted you?
Mainly it means that customers ask questions about why the cover is an odd amount.
What do customers think of the tax?
They mostly don’t know about it, I think. If they ask “Why was the cover $15 when the ad says $10?” and I explain it to them, they don’t really ask further questions.
The supporters of the tax argue there’s a correlation between sex crimes and strip clubs. You say?
Definitely not. The data cited in the Texas Supreme Court’s decision a couple of summers ago almost all come from now-discredited studies. Secondary effects have never been proven.
In “Pole Taxes Not ‘Genius,’” you point out it’s the dancers, not the clubs, who are financially penalized by the tax. How does that work?
As it turned out, the club I work at chose to raise its cover rather than the house fee, so I’ll step back from that statement. I appreciate the fact that they passed the financial burden on to the consumer. I’m not sure if this is the case at every club, though. If the higher cover deters customers from entering the club, we both suffer, but I’m not sure that it has had an effect on customer volume.
Jezebel, as you pointed out, called Houston’s pole tax “genius,” adding, “Pretty smart to use money from folks who enjoy sexualized women to aid sexually assaulted women.” Are pole taxes feminist — or anti-feminist?
The pole tax is a regressive and optional tax and as such is definitely not progressive, liberal, or in line with a statewide economic policy that would further the interests of most of the working women in the state.
Do you believe pole taxes violate the First Amendment?
While I am grateful to the First Amendment-based victories strip clubs have won, I’m not sure that this is necessarily a violation of free speech rights because they aren’t taxing the performers specifically, which would arguably restrict their ability to perform. These are probably some fine legal points I am in no way qualified to address. I do believe that these types of regressive and specific taxes set a bad precedent.
As of this year, there’s a pole tax in Illinois, and other states are introducing their own. Do you expect more states to have pole taxes in the future?
Yeah, I do, because if the strip clubs in Texas couldn’t get it together to hire effective lobbyists and attorneys to fight them, who will?
You dance all over the country. What’s the best state to dance in and why?
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Texas regardless of my complaints because it’s the one place I’ve been treated as a true independent contractor, free to make my own schedule and hours. There’s also the advantage that most clubs don’t take a percentage of your earnings, just a flat fee. If you can avoid the most macho of the Texans, it’s a great place to work.