‘Hobby exemption’ for bloggers gets initial OK

After a brief hearing before City Council’s committee on finance yesterday, an amendment to what became known as the “blogger tax” passed with a favorable recommendation. City Councilman Bill Green’s push to “exempt people engaged in hobbies or other not-for-profit activity” will be up for first reading at City Council’s next meeting.

Last summer, some bloggers received notices from the Revenue Department indicating that they were required to pay $50 annually or $300 for a lifetime Business Privilege License. That was met with a viral outcry that “highlighted the ways in which our tax and licensing structure is overly burdensome and outdated,” Green said.

If the amendment passes, bloggers would have to certify they had “not taken deductions for such activity on [their] federal tax return.” The Revenue Department would craft those certification forms that would serve as “presumptive proof” of exemption, Green said.

Tilahun Afessa, the Revenue Department’s director of policy, planning and outreach, testified that he was concerned “small earners may claim the hobby exemption even when they are engaged in true business activity” and that it may “create unnecessary problems for taxpayers as well as for the department.” He was the lone witness.

“All we’re doing is shifting the burden of proof [of earnings less than $3,000] from the taxpayer to the Revenue Department,” said Green, noting that certification forms wouldn’t necessarily stop follow-up from the city if there were questions.

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