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And your tax money goes to… The Lion King

Published in Blog on May 16, 2024 by Jakob Fay

Would you agree that the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic still constitutes a crisis?

Most Americans wouldn’t.

But, according to New York Governor Kathy Hochul, “We are still in a crisis situation,” which necessitates bequeathing $300 million in taxpayers’ money to… “The Lion King.”

The Broadway run of the popular musical “The Lion King” has garnered nearly $2 billion on the Great White Way alone over the past 27 years (internationally, the show has grossed a staggering $10 billion). Last January, the production shattered the record for single highest-grossing week in Broadway history, raking in an enviable $4,315,264 in one week. Notably, during the final week of 2022, over 20 different shows fetched $1 million each.

In short, despite slightly lower than pre-pandemic attendance, business on Broadway is back and booming, with critics noting that 2023 may have been “The Lion King’s” best year.

Nevertheless, this musical, plus several dozen more, continues to enjoy pandemic-era subsidies, and despite the hefty price tag, Gov. Hochul has signaled she may renew the program.

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During the pandemic, former Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a taxpayer-funded effort to boost the floundering New York City theater industry. Amazingly, what began as a $100 million endowment under Cuomo, who resigned in 2021, mushroomed to $300 million under his successor.

Understandably, critics on both sides of the aisle have quibbled with the exorbitant program, noting that the state is, in the words of New York Senator Sean Ryan, “just… giving private companies public money. You’re transferring that money to major companies like Disney,” which owns “The Lion King,” he stated.

Additionally, New York residents, who contribute to the theater via their taxes (New York suffers the highest individual income tax in the nation), must also pay an average of $381 per person to attend the blockbuster. In 2014, The New York Times reported that the average entry fee for “The Lion King” had climbed from less than $75 in 1998 to $150 16 years later; however, at the time, Disney capped its maximum price at $227 — half of what other leading productions charged and over $100 less than Disney’s average ticket price today.

Despite this massive increase in prices and the promise of cushy state aid, the Great White Way also received federal aid and grants from the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. “Hamilton,” the lucrative Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, for example, received at least $30 (possibly $50) million from the $900 billion COVID relief bill, which Congress passed at the height of the pandemic.

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While it may be tempting (especially for fans of the theater) to “bail out” the popular industry, we ought, instead, to question whether it is fair or even constitutional to siphon taxpayers’ money to fuel a multi-billion dollar enterprise. With or without state and federal aid, the Manhattan theater district appears to be doing just fine — meanwhile, a family of four might dole out well over $1,000 for a single showing of “The Lion King.”

The powers that be have all but abandoned the constitutional principles of the General Welfare Clause. It’s time to take action to ensure that, if the federal government is going to take our income, it at least uses that money responsibly. And millions of Americans might disagree that taxes for “The Lion King,” “Hamilton,” and Broadway constitute a responsible use.

Sign the Convention of States petition below to join the grassroots fight for fiscal sanity!

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