Roanoke Times Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: THURSDAY, October 12, 1995 TAG: 9510120038 SECTION: VIRGINIA PAGE: C-1 EDITION: METRO SOURCE: DAN CASEY STAFF WRITER DATELINE: LENGTH: Medium
There they were on Sunday, local GOP candidates for the General Assembly, one by one denouncing business license taxes at a televised debate before the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Republican House candidate Newell Falkinburg, a Roanoke physician, called local Business Professional and Occupational License taxes a "killer tax," "a dumb tax" and "an awful tax."
State Sen. Brandon Bell, R-Roanoke County, called the BPOL taxes "onerous," especially for small businesses trying to get off the ground.
Republican House candidates Trixie Averill and Jeff Artis said BPOL taxes ought to be repealed or revised.
It may be little wonder that the issue was on their minds.
Falkinburg, Bell and Artis all paid BPOL taxes late this year; Falkinburg paid four years worth of taxes and penalties just last week.
BPOL taxes are based on gross receipts and are paid to localities. They're particularly hated by businesses because they have to pay regardless of whether they make a profit.
Democrats in the General Assembly successfully fought Gov. George Allen's bid to repeal the taxes this year, arguing it would cost localities millions and force increases in property taxes.
Harry Rhodes, Falkinburg's tax attorney, appeared in the Roanoke Commissioner of Revenue's Office on Oct. 4 and filed applications for business licenses dating to 1992 on Falkinburg's behalf.
The licenses concern consulting income Falkinburg received from a company of which he is also a director, Falkinburg said. The taxes, including a 10 percent penalty, amounted to about $5,000, he added.
Falkinburg, who has remained current on BPOL taxes for his medical practice, said Wednesday that he learned of the oversight while preparing to run for the House seat now held by Del. Clifton "Chip" Woodrum, D-Roanoke.
Falkinburg said his accountant and Rhodes disagreed on whether he owed the tax when they reviewed his tax records in preparation for his election bid.
"Rather than haggle about it, we finally decided to pay the thing and be done with it," Falkinburg said. "... You're not going to penalize me for being honest, are you? I could have laid low."
He added that the payment "has not made me a fan of the BPOL tax, as you might expect." Falkinburg went on to call BPOL "a crazy tax," but said: "If I owe it, I pay it. That's the way it is with all of my taxes."
Bell also paid BPOL taxes for his small business, Parcel Express, late this year, according to Revenue Commissioner Marsha Compton Fielder, an elected Democrat.
Bell said his check was dated Jan. 29, but that he might have mailed it late or perhaps it was delayed in arriving from Richmond, where he was serving in the Senate. Deadline for payment was Jan. 31.
Bell also failed to file a BPOL application this year on his income as a consultant for New Options Group, a career out-placement consulting service. Fielder said he owes the tax; the senator said he was unaware of it and that New Options never told him he had to file.
"I'll pay the $30; that's what it is," he said.
Artis, who publishes the Black Conservative Newsletter under his company JLA Publishing, also paid a BPOL penalty to Roanoke this year. His application didn't arrive until Feb. 13, Fielder said.
"What happened was, I thought that the license lasted for a year, and it turned out it didn't. You're looking at, if I remember from the top of my head, a $3 fine," Artis said.
He noted that he had to pay the tax even though he lost money on the newsletter. "That's why it's a bad tax," Artis said.
Fielder said about 6,500 businesses pay the tax annually and that only a small percentage are late. The rate ranges from 16 cents to 58 cents per $100 of gross receipts, depending on the type of business. A lawyer whose annual gross is $100,000 would pay $580 each year.
The four Democratic legislative candidates, incumbent Dels. Richard Cranwell, Vic Thomas, Woodrum and Senate challenger John Edwards, paid their BPOL taxes on time, according to records in Roanoke and Vinton. Averill, the Republican who is running against Cranwell, doesn't have a business and thus doesn't owe BPOL taxes.
"I would think that the public would probably recognize that one of the basic obligations of citizenship includes proper filing and payment of taxes, whether we like it or not," Woodrum said. "No one should try to place themselves above that principle, particularly one who seeks public service."
Bell had a different take on the matter.
"I think everybody should have to run for public office to have their tax stuff and their business stuff scrutinized, whatever," he said.