Well, my BPT and NPT forms and payment are finally in the mail. I want to throw out a couple of observations about this comically unpleasant experience. But first, let's review how we got here:
Just kidding about that last part. But this experience was atrocious.
A couple of caveats in the city's defense:
1) Putting aside the question of whether the BPT is too high, the city did not appear to be trying to screw me out of all of my money. The fact of the matter is that I was delinquent with some taxes, and Philadelphia might have either made me pay my business start-up fee a second time or charged big-time penalties (which it still might do, but hopefully not), or both. It did not.
2) The people at the city, especially Harriett Mitchell at the Revenue Department, were all very nice and willing to help.
But it's a problem that I feel as though I've talked to every damn customer service employee in Philadelphia. Every one I talked to could help me with one aspect of my problem, but not another. Is it so outlandish in this day and age to think the Revenue Department could just have employees whose specialty is "taxes"? Who could be reached on one phone number without first talking to someone else at a different phone number? It all seemed depressingly inefficient.
And while we're here:
There's a strange emotional component to paying the BPT. You feel like a sucker, like you're paying it voluntarily. At least I did.
The reason I felt this way, I think, is that not everyone pays it, and the reason not everyone pays it is that it's obscure and applies to people who don't think of themselves as businesses. What's more, the payment process sure feels like it's designed so that you, the taxpayer, do the great bulk of the work. I am no longer surprised that so many taxpayers in this city just say, "screw it."
Paying your taxes should feel mandatory, but it should feel mandatory the way that stopping at a red light feels mandatory – not an undue burden. Otherwise citizens get confused and cynical: Some don't know the rules, others cheat, the ones that are left get angry, and taxpayer confidence in government erodes. And then where are you?