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Philadelphia 'blogger fee' turns into blog fodder

Money is short and times are hard, so municipal governments have to look everywhere for the funds to keep cops on the beat and buses on the street. Or so one would think from the news out of Philadelphia, where the city has been asking bloggers with any sign of a business model to pay for a "business privilege license."

Philadelphia City Paper writer Valerie Rubinsky broke the story last week:

After dutifully reporting even the smallest profits on their tax filings this year, a number -- though no one knows exactly what that number is -- of Philadelphia bloggers were dispatched letters informing them that they owe $300 for a privilege license, plus taxes on any profits they made.

That license consists of a one-time $300 fee, although bloggers thinking of going into tax exile may prefer to pay $50 a year instead. Or it seems you can refrain from running any ads on your blog, turning it into a hobby in the city's eyes.

As the City Paper's follow-up today notes, the story quickly took off, drawing sometimes-inaccurate coverage under headlines like the New York Daily News's "Cash-strapped Philly: Bloggers must pay for business license." (Note: It's possible that some of this coverage, at least in other National League East cities, comes from people tired of seeing obnoxious Philly fans in their own ballparks.)

Kidding aside, there are real policy issues here. The city government put itself into this box with a law requiring anybody running a business of any sort to pay for this license, so bloggers running ads next to their copy shouldn't be exempt if the requirement also applies to people selling old junk on eBay, collecting an ad-revenue share from funny cat videos posted on YouTube or hawking custom t-shirts at CafePress. For that matter, I wouldn't object to Philly taxing transactions in FarmVille... but maybe that's just me.

In other cities, no such problem exists. The District, for example, only requires a business license for activities that would require other forms of oversight, such as food sales or rental housing. Blogging and other sorts of writing are free from that requirement, although if you make real money from your blog--hey, stop laughing!--D.C. will want its share.

But there is an upside here: By in essence gift-wrapping such a fun story on a slow news week, Philadelphia has provided a form of economic stimulus for bloggers everywhere. If you've already opined on this subject, please take a moment in a follow-up post to express thanks to the good people up Interstate 95 who made it all possible.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 23, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Policy and politics , The business we have chosen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Checking into your own home? Count me out
Next: Rob Pegoraro blog post mentions Lady Gaga


What ever happened to the internet is tax free?

Remember that?

Posted by: essl | August 23, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm. Time to come up with a new business model. Here's mine:

Air jordan(1-24)shoes $33
BOOT $50
Nike shox(R4,NZ,OZ,TL1,TL 2,TL3) $35
Handbags(Coach lv fendi d&g) $35
Tshirts (Polo ,ed hardy,lacoste) $16
Jean(True Religion,ed hardy,coogi) $30
Sunglasses(Oakey,c oach,gucci,Armaini) $16
New era cap $15
Bikini (Ed hardy,polo) $25

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | August 23, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Ah, the City of Brothely Love, er, Brotherly Love. Based on their sports fans, they must tax good behavior and sportsmanship, too. No taxes to be collected there.

Posted by: pjohn2 | August 23, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

I love that the spam comment above actually makes sense with the article. There need to a term for that.

Posted by: cheeseroue | August 23, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Rob, that's another Mary Chapin Carpenter reference. Has she been cycling more frequently on the iPod?

Posted by: dcborn61 | August 24, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

I think it is great. Other cities need to see what happens. It is called "The rule of unintended conseqences". Let us say someone is thinking of moving to Philly and buying a house, well after thinking about it they may buy somewhere else. But it doesn't matter, someone else will buy the house. But that is a simple example, it the consequences that we would never think would happen that we need to know.
Go Philly, grab the bull by the horns and take control.

Posted by: TexasGringo | August 24, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

If it's a business, you should pay your fair share of taxes. Doing the same thing over and over for money is a business. If you're just getting rid of "stuff" you no longer want or need, that's not working for profit. You shouldn't be taxed for that.

Posted by: garybelcher1 | August 24, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

The tax a business pays should be a function of the services it actually uses. There is no logic to a blogger licence fee unless the government is actually providing some services or the blogger's business involves some form of limited public resources like a space on a public street. On the other hand it is hard to see why sales or income taxes should vary depending on whether the business was in a real local place or over the internet. Difficulty in collection income or sales taxes for internet businesses may be a bigger issue than the Philadelphia license fee.

Posted by: dnjake | August 24, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Philly should be able to tax income on business that are located in their region. But have they addressed server locations and work locations versus residences when issuing a license to operate? What if someone runs their blog from a suburban Starbucks?

Also there should be a minimum threshold for licensing, some sort of reality check. $50/year on $10 of Google Adsense doesn't make much sense.

Posted by: davezatz | August 24, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I think cash-strapped cities all over the US are doing what they can to fill their coffers. Here in South Florida, a lot of cities/towns are installing cameras at intersections and if you "run" a red light, you get something like a $158 ticket. All under the guise of "safety."

Posted by: MetalGrannie | August 24, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

This is what you expect from a city whose only claim to fame is a defective bell.

Posted by: VernonHell | August 24, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Why doesn't Philadelphia just get to the point and remove all private citizens from the city? Then all the public employees can tax each other to pay each other's salaries, pensions, health care, etc-until there isn't any money left.

Posted by: skshrews | August 24, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

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