You may have heard about this crazy story from Philadelphia, in which the city is sending letters to bloggers, demanding that they pay a $300 "business privilege tax" because of their income from blogging. This rang a chord with me, because a few years ago, long after I had moved to D.C., I got a letter from the city of Philadelphia informing me that I owed them money from my unpaid business privilege tax. This happened because I reported some modest royalty income from a book I had written while living in Philadelphia, and the city decided that by writing a book I was operating a business within the city, and therefore needed to pay a tax for the privilege. Needless to say, I thought this was an outrage of the highest order. So I feel these bloggers' pain.
Generally speaking, I'm a fan of taxes (yeah, I said it!). Though nobody particularly likes paying them, and we can and should argue about how they should be best apportioned, any mature citizen ought to realize that we get some pretty fantastic things with the money we give the government, like schools and roads and firefighters and food inspection and shiny weapons. Nevertheless, when cash-strapped cities start looking for creative ways to improve the bottom line, they can sometimes come up with ideas that will generate modest revenue but huge PR problems. This is just such a case -- I don't know how much they'll raise from extending the business privilege tax to bloggers, but it can't be more than a few thousand dollars. And as a result, lots and lots of people now think the Philly city government is a bunch of jerks.
On the other hand, Philadelphia is in the grip of a fiscal nightmare -- to give you a sense of it, a 12-year-old boy with autism recently died in West Philly, probably because the engine company nearest his house was under a "rolling brownout" that the city has imposed on the fire department to cut costs. Just one example of how the budget crisis so many cities and states are suffering through has real human costs.
-- Paul Waldman
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