A. tax may write off scribes

Following a wave of publicity over the Los Angeles’ tax on home businesses, city officials are proposing moves that could ultimately distinguish writers, authors and artists from the levy.

Council members Laura Chick and Michael Feuer introduced a motion to conduct a study on how other large cities in California tax writers, authors and artists, and to suggest other ways to place levies on these professions.

City officials have been hounded by calls from many screenwriters and artists in the past week complaining that their revenue should be treated differently from other businesses.

The calls came after a series of news reports about the city’s “amnesty period” on home-based businesses. Owners were given until June 5 to register with the city and pay up three years in back business taxes, meaning thousands in back business taxes for some. But city officials revised their position, extending the amnesty deadline until Sept. 5 and waiving all back taxes.

The regulations have existed for years, but many screenwriters were caught by surprise by the tax and say they had never heard of the law.

“There are unique issues there that council member Chick felt needed to be examined — both constitutional issues and practical issues that need a second look,” said Kenneth Bernstein, planning deputy to Chick.

Chick and Feuer also are recommending that the city see if it would make sense to establish a “financial hardship” threshold, exempting those home business owners who don’t make a certain level of gross income.

That may be an alternative to an out-and-out exemption of all writers. The fear is that such an exemption would be tough to define, or could be so broad as to include a wide range of professions.

Meanwhile, the Writers Guild of America has retained a lobbyist on the issue, Mark Ryavec of Delphi Associates.

“We are heartened by the city’s quick response to the concerns raised by numerous writers and others, and we are certain that we will be able to work with city staff and various council members to address these issues,” said a spokeswoman for the guild.

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