ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A St. Louis attorney is threatening legal action against the City of St. Louis if it does not issue city earnings tax refunds to people who worked at home during the pandemic.
Bevis Schock, a local attorney, said he'll bring a class-action lawsuit against the city later this spring if the city does not reverse course.
People who live within the city pay the earnings tax regardless of where they are employed. In addition, people who live outside of the city limits, but have employers located in the city, also pay the tax. Schock said people who live outside of the city and work from home should not have to pay the tax for days they didn't travel into the city because of the pandemic.
"In a normal year, the city may refund a few million dollars to people who file affidavits through their employers about days worked within the city limits," he said. "That's considered a rounding error. But because of the pandemic, with oodles of people working from home, it's a giant number for the city." Schock estimates the city could refund close to $20 million to those who have worked from home instead of in the office. Whatever the number is, he said, is more than the the city can afford.
"It's very serious and I don't think the city has $20 million and maybe they'll go bankrupt," he said. The city's ordinance related to the city earnings tax reads as follows:
A tax for general revenue purposes of one percent is imposed on:
A. Salaries, wages commissions and other compensation earned after July 31, 1959, by resident individuals of the city, including the entire distributive share of any member of a partnership or association, less the amount thereof, if any, which may be shown to have been taxed under the provisions hereof to said association or partnership;
B. Salaries, wages, commissions and other compensation earned after July 31, 1959, by nonresident individuals of the City for work done or services performed or rendered in the City;
Schock says by collecting earning tax for 2020 from people living outside of the city and working from home, the city is in violation of its own ordinance.
"I'm very hopeful that as pressure builds on this issue they're going to agree to pay," he said. "They would be better off because why spend the money litigating, takes everybody's attention, and it's terrible publicity plus they're going to lose anyway."
City officials said the earnings tax brings in about $176 million in revenue every year. That money, in turn, is used to help fund things local fire and police departments, schools and roads. Additionally, the city is one of many large U.S. cities with a local earning tax in place. City officials said the rate of 1 percent is among the lowest in the country when it comes to earning tax. The city as people begin filing their income taxes for 2020, it will look similar to any year pre-pandemic. Those working from home will not be eligible for write offs or deductions for work supplies used at home, including furniture, pens, paper or utilities.
Schock said if you are interested in protesting the earnings tax, you will need to contact your employer to help fill out an affidavit, recording the days you were not working in the city. Upon filing your income taxes, he said you must include "under protest." The federal IRS tax season begins on Friday.