My Business Privilege Tax Diary, continued

Note: I’m trying to pay the Business Privilege Taxes I owe, and keeping a diary of my efforts. For the first installment, click here.

Day 3: Tuesday April 13

When I left off yesterday, I still hadn't gotten my "business" account number from the Revenue Department, which I need to fill out my BPT forms. This morning, the Department’s phone line is invariably busy, so I decide to start calculating the damage and fill in the account number later.

The BPT EZ Form is not esepcially intimdating: Two sheets, one for figuring out what you owe, the other for declaring it. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that I need to fill out the extended form, because I made some money from a magazine based in Washington D.C.

The extended form is monumentally boring and I will not explain it in detail except to say that it’s six pages long and consists of sheets labeled “Schedule A,” “Schedule B,” “Schedule C” and so forth. The schedules, inexplicably, are not in alphabetical order.

The tax itself has two main parts: A 6.45 percent levy on net income, and a .01 percent levy on gross receipts. I didn’t know what that meant, so I had Ben Waxman explain it to me: Net income means “profits,” or the money made after costs. Gross receipts is the total amount of money that’s earned regardless of cost. So in some sense, you’re paying for the same money twice.

It takes me about a half hour to figure out the form. I’m disappointed by how much I owe, of course, and more disappointed to learn that I have to pay double, because the BPT requires a mandatory estimated payment for next year. What if I earn zero dollars next year? The city will refund it … after I do some more paperwork.

By mid-afternoon, the Revenue Department’s line is still busy, but something else interesting has begun to happen: I’ve already posted the first installment of this diary, and I’m starting to receive responses to it. The messages generally fall into two camps: 1) Freelancers wondering if they have to pay the BPT (Answer: Yes, sorry), and 2) Notes of sympathy from people who have been through the BPT wars. One calls the tax a “killer.”

At 4:00 pm, I decide to just sit down and call the Revenue Department over and over until I get through. I’m starting to imagine the scene there: I picture a little old lady fielding calls for the whole damn city, only able to take a new one about once every five minutes, so you need to be fast to get through – its like a radio call-in contest.

I get lucky pretty quick in terms of getting through to the answering system, but when I press “3” to speak to an employee, I’m put on hold for 13 minutes and then … disconnected. This is the second time this has happened, and I’m pretty frustrated. Look, I understand it’s a busy time of year over there, and it’s my fault for waiting and for losing my account number. I’m willing to wait on the line. But why the disconnections?

Finally at about 4:30 I hear a human voice, a woman’s (I cant tell if she’s a little old lady or not). I tell her I need my account number. She asks for my name and social. I give them to her -- I don't mention that I'm a member of the press or anything like that. She tells me my business is closed.

The hell it is!

She explains, very patiently, that if the city receives no activity on an account, it eventually closes it down – and I haven’t had activity on mine for five years. To re-open it, I need to fill out another licensing application.

At this point, I can feel the hammer coming. The $300 start-up fee. I’m going to have to pay it again.

“You won’t have to pay again,” she says.


The only trouble, she says, is that if I file the application now, it won’t be processed in time for me to pay my taxes by April 15. She pauses and says that she’d like to save me the trouble of the application and just re-open my account (!!!), but she needs to check with her supervisor, who isn’t in today. She offers to call me back first thing in the morning.

“Sure,” I say. “That’d be great.”

In the meantime, she tells me to prepare the returns for this year and any previous year that my “business” earned money. She suspects interest and penalties can be forgiven (and hey, there's an amesty coming...).

Basically she was immensely helpful, and if it hadn’t been so damn hard to reach her in the first place, and the BPT forms weren’t so draconian, I might have some nice things to say about my experience with the Revenue Department. Assuming, that is, she really calls me back.

Mission Status: Substantial progress, substantial risk

Follow us on Twitter and review city services on our sister site, City Howl.