By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Photo by Ted Soqui
Maybe it’s because the rest of this fair state doesn’t always have its largest city’s interests at heart. But almost any time the Legislature proposes a law exclusively affecting Los Angeles, it’s a rotten deal.
Two years ago, for instance, Sacramento proposed to ease the law on the breakup of cities — but only in Los Angeles. Once the legislation was rewired to let any California city split, lawmakers lost interest. If it doesn’t just stick it to LaLaLand, why bother?
Now a similarly focused law crawls through the Assembly. AB 83 applies only to Los Angeles County, and in theory, I should want it, since it purports to benefit those who write at home. But the Legislature’s analysts were critical of it. So am I.
Yes, it’s our old friend, the home-business city-tax protection bill, again. The latest version of Assemblyman Tony Cardenas’ law has been slimmed down from 1998’s attempt, which, you may recall, tried to protect a wide inventory of "low impact" at-home businesses from municipal imposts. But since it would have applied statewide, it incurred statewide opposition. Opponents objected that the bill might unduly encourage accountants, lawyers, C-programmers, masseuses, even blacksmiths, to wield their humble trades from their spare bedrooms in order to avoid city business taxes.
As a result we have a new bill that only protects "any writer, musician, director or other creative artist" from paying city taxes on any work done at home. But only in this county. Which is strange. Is Sacramento saying that this is where all artistic Californians live? If so, why have I never met a San Franciscan who wasn’t a self-declared creative genius?
According to a Cardenas spokesman who asked not to be named, the bill’s narrowed language reflected "recent reports of movie production going to Canada." A legislative insider, however, also not speaking for attribution, said the narrowing was "what it took to get the bill out of committee." In other words, no one wanted it to apply anywhere but here in Los Angeles. In the home-based screenwriting community (and someone please do tell me what work directors do at home), Cardenas’ bill is ballyhooed as protecting scribes from city fiscal intrusion upon the productive imagination. According to the City Controller’s Office, however, city taxes amount to under a half of 1 percent of gross income (or $125 per year for a writer earning $25,000). Potential taxes to be raised from these "creative artists" are estimated at about $5 million a year for the city.
The real burdens, of course, for us creative at-home laborers are those state and federal income taxes. So if Sacramento’s sympathetic legislators really feel for us downtrodden L.A. scribes, why don’t they ratchet back their own state franchise tax for our benefit? And save us some real money?
Would that be fair? Probably not. The real question is, why should any one professional class — however highly we might think of ourselves — be offered any tax break that other people who work as hard or harder — whether at home or in an office or a foundry — don’t get. It’s the question that Assemblyman Cardenas, in his latest legislation, fails to answer.
Alas, poor Community Redevelopment Agency. Once it was the bogeyperson of reformers, the alleged underminer of Los Angeles’ downtown and — less famously — the broker of the city center’s best low-income housing. Now the CRA’s 200-odd personnel huddle in their tightly guarded Spring Street revetments high in the gloriously ornate old Banco Popular, wondering what their future holds. While their downtown projects are done (if not paid for), new, outlying projects are under way (if not fully funded).
Far more to the point, the CRA operating budget’s been hanging in limbo since at least last October. Its board has consistently failed to submit a budget to the City Council. By last week, it suddenly looked as if many CRA-niks would be out of a job, simply because there would be no money left to pay them after June 30.
Now, that wasn’t good for those unlucky employees, surely. But it may have been semi-intended by the mayor-appointed CRA board of directors, who let things get to this state. That board’s majority, facing a yawning shortfall, seemed to have been in an "if we can’t pay these guys, they’re out of here" state of mind. It apparently took David Cochran of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 8 to note that simply not paying workers was no way to downsize. He pointed this out at a joint CRA–City Council meeting last week. This realization seemed to be a sudden embarrassment for the CRA board, and for the City Council, which had to vote to fund a two-month funding stopgap to pay the spavined development agency’s staff until September. What happens then, no one seems to know.
So this particular meeting turned into an archetypal bureaucratic blamestorming session — with CRA board chair Peggy Moore mostly blaming the staff that she could not pay in full.
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