A few options for creative taxation


Here we are, standing on the ledge of the fiscal cliff looking down into its jagged…. OK, I don’t know enough about it to make any elaborate metaphors.

I do know that we could all end up paying more taxes if Washington doesn’t make a decision. And as of this writing it hasn’t.

I also know that if taxes have to go up, we may as well do it in creative ways. So—Washington, feel free to pay attention—I’ve compiled this list of unusual state taxes the feds could borrow to at least create more interesting—if not absurd—ways for us to hand over the money.

• Let’s start right here in Kansas, where there is a tax on hot air balloon rides. While the law considers hot air balloon travel to be listed under transportation—and therefore untaxable—a balloon tethered to the ground is considered to be for amusement. And that’s taxable.

• In California, if you purchase fruit from a normal retailer it’s tax-exempt. But buy an apple from the vending machine—I didn’t know such a thing existed—and that purchase is charged an additional 33 percent tax.

• In Tennessee, dealers of illegal drugs are instructed to anonymously pay taxes on the substances they sell.

• Similarly, while most states consider marijuana to be illegal, those states still impose a tax on the sale of it.

• The use of air is taxable in Pennsylvania: use a vacuum cleaner at a carwash and pay up, buddy.

• New York has a tax on “prepared foods.” If you go to a cafe and order a whole, unsliced bagel, you’re good to go. But as soon as it’s sliced in half, the bagle has been “prepared” and you’ll pay an extra eight or nine cents.

• Texans who purchase a belt don’t pay tax. Texans who add a belt buckle to their purchase do.

• A deck of playing cards in Alabama is subject to a 10-cent tax. The seller, meanwhile, pays a $4 license each year to sell the cards.

• Iowa, New Jersey and Pennsylvania exempt pumpkin purchases from sales tax. But only if you’re going to eat it. A pumpkin bought for carving is pumpkin bought with tax.

• Candy in Illinois went from a 1 percent tax to a 6.25 percent tax in 2009. But items such as Butterfinger, Kit Kat and Twix are spared from taxation because they contain flour, which classifies them as food instead of candy.

• Californians on a budget need to be picky about their snuff: dry snuff tobacco is taxed 256 percent of its price, while moist snuff is taxed at only 170 percent.

• Wisconsin has a tax on Internet access. This created a problem during the dial-up days, when double taxation occurred because phone calls were also taxed.

• Many cities levy a “jock tax” in which the income earned by a traveling entertainer or athlete while in that city is taxable by that city.

• Citizens in New Mexico who are more than 100 years old are tax-exempt. But only if they aren’t dependents.

• In Chicago, soda in a bottle is taxed 3 percent while soda from a fountain is taxed 9 percent.

After considering all these, it should be noted that the federal government does have a few creative ways of taxing already: the 1040 instructions state that you should report any stolen property that you own. However, the Constitution protects us from self-incrimination, so the best options is just to list it under “other income.”

Whether any of these ideas will veer us off the edge of the fiscal cliff is debatable. All I know is, this whole subject is very…taxing.

And try to have a happy new year despite the bad pun.

To ask why, contact the writer at david@hillsborofreepress.com.


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