If you live in America, the most seemingly innocent items and services are often booby-trapped with taxes. These taxes can vary from state to state, and many stray into bizarre territory. Here’s a sampling of some of the more outlandish taxes that have been levied in the US.
Between 2005 and 2009 in Tennessee, you had more to worry about than getting arrested for dealing illegal drugs. It was mandatory that drug dealers pay a per-gram tax on their goods – $3.50 for pot, $50 for cocaine, and $200 for meth and crack. When you obtained an illegal drug, you had 48 hours to report it to the Department of Revenue and pay your tax. After anonymously paying the taxes at the state revenue office, the dealer would be given stamps verifying payment. If a dealer was arrested without these stamps, the state would pursue money owed. Tennessee has influenced an astounding 22 other states to pass comparable laws.
If you live in Durham, North Carolina you must register your pets as personal property so that they can be taxed. The tax amounts to $10 if your pet has been spayed or neutered, and $75 if it hasn’t gone under the knife. Only residents with canine and feline companions four months or older are required to pay this tax.
Playing card tax
In Alabama, a 10 cent tax is imposed when buying a card deck containing “no more than 54 cards.” Even the retailer isn’t exempt – they must pay an annual license tax of $3 and a fee of $1.
Fresh fruit vending machine tax
In California, fresh fruit is tax-exempt, unless it’s purchased from a vending machine, where its tax is hiked up to a whopping 33% of the price. Better stick with farmers markets and the grocery store. Or win the lottery.
Fountain soda drink tax
This is a strange tax from Chicago that defies explanation. If you buy a fountain soda drink, you’ll shell out 9 percent for sales tax. Buy the exact same drink in a bottle or can, and the damage to your wallet will only amount to 3 percent.
Coffee lid tax
When you order your favorite espresso from a Denver coffee shop, its paper cup is completely free of charge. But if you’re so extravagant as to ask for a lid, that portion of the container will be subject to a fee. Colorado classifies coffee lids and napkins as “nonessential” packaging, which makes them fair game for the state’s 2.9 percent tax.
Strip club admission tax
Everything’s bigger in Texas – including a $5 pole tax passed in 2007, and charged to anyone checking out the state’s 200 or more strip clubs. In 2011, club owners challenged this tax, on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech, but the court deemed it legally acceptable. So far, the tax has raised over $15 million, and funnels a portion into sexual assault prevention programs.
Sex sales tax
The stakes for acquiring carnal knowledge were raised in Utah when owners of sexually-oriented businesses where “nude or partially nude individuals perform any service” shelled out a hefty 10 percent sales and use tax applied to admission and user fees. You’d think this would apply to Nevada, not Utah. This tax also covered sales of food, drink, merchandise and services. It topped off the existing 4.75 percent sales tax that the state had already levied on most transactions, whether or not they were sexually explicit. Which probably can’t be counted on to generate much revenue, since it only applies to a handful of businesses in conservative Utah.
Beware, residents of Chicago – beneath your favorite candy’s sweet exterior may lurk a not-so-sweet tax snare. Candies created without flour (think hard candies and lollipops) are deemed “candy,” and are subject to an extra 5.25 percent tax. Sweets concocted with flour (think ice cream and chocolates) are regarded as “food,” and are exempt from this tax. You may also want to rethink ordering that soft drink. A 5.25 percent tax could apply, depending on the amounts of soy, milk or fruit juice in your beverage.
If you’re in New York and planning to buy a bagel, its cost will escalate as soon as a knife slices through it. Any “altered” bagels – sliced, toasted or topped with cream cheese or butter – ring up an 8 cent tax. The logic behind this is that cut bagels transform into prepared foods that are eaten on the premises, and are therefore taxable. On the other hand, uncut bagels are tax exempt because they’re usually consumed at home.
Those blueberries on your bagel probably came from Maine, a tiny state that produces a massive 99 percent of all U.S. blueberries, averaging 80 to 85 million pounds per year. But they don’t come cheap. Anyone in the Pine Tree State who grows, buys, sells, handles or processes the berries must pay a penny-and-a-half per pound tax. At least they don’t tax eating them – yet.
Taxes are as quirky as the states that concoct them. Even though taxes are one of life’s constants, they can still boggle the mind. Let’s just hope taxing the air that we breathe doesn’t come next.