If New Yorkers fantasize that doing business here in Los Angeles would be less of a headache, forget about it. This city is fast becoming a job-killing machine. It's no accident the unemployment rate is a frightening 11.4 percent and climbing.
I never could have imagined that, after living here for more than three decades, I would be filing a lawsuit against my beloved Los Angeles and making plans for my company, Creators Syndicate, to move elsewhere.
But we have no choice. The city's bureaucrats rival Stalin's apparatchiks in issuing decrees, rescinding them, and then punishing citizens for having followed them in the first place.
I founded Creators Syndicate in 1987, and we have represented hundreds of important writers, syndicating their columns to newspapers and Web sites around the world. The most famous include Hillary Clinton, who, like Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote a syndicated column when she was first lady. Another star was the advice columnist Ann Landers, once described by "The World Almanac" as "the most influential woman in America." Other Creators columnists include Bill O'Reilly, Susan Estrich, Thomas Sowell, Roland Martin and Michelle Malkin—plus Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonists and your favorite comic strips.
From the beginning, we've been headquartered in Los Angeles. But 15 years ago we had a dispute with the city over our business tax classification. The city argued that we should be in an "occupations and professions" classification that has an extremely high tax rate, while we fought for a "wholesale and retail" classification with a much lower rate. The city forced us to invest a small fortune in legal fees over two years, but we felt it was worth it in order to establish the correct classification once and for all.
After enduring a series of bureaucratic hearings, we anxiously awaited a ruling to find out what our tax rate would be. Everything was at stake. We had already decided that if we lost, we would move.
You can imagine how relieved we were on July 1, 1994, when the ruling was issued. We won, and firmly planted our roots in the City of Angels and proceeded to build our business.
Everything was fine until the city started running out of money in 2007. Suddenly, the city announced that it was going to ignore its own ruling and reclassify us in the higher tax category. Even more incredible is the fact that the new classification was to be imposed retroactively to 2004 with interest and penalties. No explanation was given for the new classification, or for the city's decision to ignore its 1994 ruling.
Their official position is that the city is not bound by past rulings—only taxpayers are. This is why we have been forced to file a lawsuit. We will let the courts decide whether it is legal for adverse rulings to apply only to taxpayers and not to the city.
We work with hundreds of outside agents, consultants, independent contractors and support services —many of whom pay taxes to the city of Los Angeles. This spurs a job-creating ripple effect on the city's economy. Yet I suspect many companies like ours already have quietly left town in the face of the city's taxes and regulations. This would help explain the erosion of jobs.
Regardless of the outcome of our case, the arbitrary and capricious behavior of some bureaucrats is creating a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. If we win in court, the taxpayers of Los Angeles will have lost because all those tax dollars will have been wasted on needless litigation.
If we lose in court, the remaining taxpayers in Los Angeles will have lost because their burden will continue to swell as yet another business moves its jobs—and taxpayers—to another city.
As long as City Hall operates like a banana republic, why is anyone surprised that jobs have left the city in droves and Los Angeles is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy?