Jocks Pay 2 Percent? The Ten Oddest Taxes in the U.S.
Taxation is serious business. It’s the foundation of our democracy and helps to pay for important social services and infrastructure. It’s also a pain in the neck to figure how much you owe each year. Even the tax laws themselves, reported by CNN, are head-scratchers.
Alabama levies a 10-cent tax on decks of cards containing no more than fifty-four cards. Retailers of playing cards also have to pay an annual license tax of $3 and a fee of $1.
Tennessee, along with a handful of other states, taxes possession of illegal drugs. According to CNN, “you have 48 hours to report to the Department of Revenue and pay your tax” on any illegal substance you purchase in Tennessee, after which you will get “stamps to affix to your illegal substance” that “serve as evidence you paid the tax on the illegal product.” Tennessee does not require any identification whatsoever to get the stamps, and “it’s illegal for revenue employees to rat you out.” Still, voluntary compliance with this tax is quite rare: CNN reports that in North Carolina, which has a similar law, “only 79 folks have voluntarily come forward since 1990.” (Another seventy-two thousand have been taxed after being discovered and arrested.)
Speaking of illegal activities, the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Individual Tax Guide for 2009 reminds taxpayers that if they receive a bribe, they must declare it as income so that it can be taxed.
Utah has one very sexy tax: owners of businesses where “nude or partially nude individuals perform any service” must pay a 10 percent sales-and-use tax on admission and user fees, as well as on the sale of merchandise, food, drink, and—ahem—services. And that’s on top of the 4.75 percent sales tax the state already imposes on most transactions.
Several cities and states levy “jock” taxes on the income athletes earn. Okay, it’s not just jocks; the tax applies to entertainers, too. Any money that a player or performer earns while playing there is taxable. California was the first state to impose a jock tax in 1991, right after the Chicago Bulls beat the Los Angeles Lakers (not surprisingly, the Chicago players were the ones who got taxed).
Maine blueberries are a gift from the gods, but not a free one. Anyone who grows, purchases, sells, handles, or processes the berries in the state is subject to a ¾-cent-per-pound tax.
Keeping warm will cost you in Minnesota if you wear fur: businesses in the state must pay a 6.5 percent tax on the total amount received for the sale, shipping, and finance charges associated with the purchase of fur clothing in which the fur accounts for three times more of the garment than the next-most-valuable material. Of course, most merchants pass that tax on to their customers by including it in the price of an item or as a separate item on the bill. Most other types of clothing in Minnesota are sales tax–free. (No word on whether PETA president Ingrid Newkirk had anything to do with this.)
In Chicago, if you buy a fountain soda drink, you pay a 9 percent tax. If you buy the same soda in a bottle or a can, you pay only 3 percent.
Most states, including Massachusetts, Virginia, and Maryland, as well as cities like New Orleans, levy amusement taxes on tickets sold at any venue with more than 750 to 1,000 seats. Because, you know, you can’t let people have fun without charging them for it.
In September 2009, Illinois began taxing candy at a higher rate than other food. Oddly, the Illinois Department of Revenue distinguishes between candy and food items: “if an item contains flour or requires refrigeration,” it is not considered candy and is taxed at the same lower rate as other food. That means that yogurt-covered raisins are candy, but yogurt-covered pretzels are food; Baby Ruth bars are candy, but Twix bars are food; Milky Way Midnight bars are candy, but original Milky Way bars are food.
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The minutiae of tax laws are unfathomable. I guess that’s how accountants, lawyers, and computerized filing systems like TurboTax stay in business. These wacky U.S. tax guidelines illustrate how obscure the logic is behind most taxes we pay. I’m just glad I don’t live in Illinois. I don’t mind that jock tax—it’s about time they got their comeuppance for dominating the other kids in high school—but don’t touch my Milky Way!