Most people are familiar with common taxes: income taxes, sales taxes, and additional taxes on products like cigarettes and gasoline. But you may not know about some of the odder taxes on the books around the country. Here are some interesting taxes that you may actually have paid without even knowing it.
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A tax on illegal drugs
It might sound crazy that states actually tax products that are illegal in the first place, but several states actually do. For instance, Tennessee has what’s commonly known as the “crack tax,” which was passed in 2005 to tax illegal substances like cocaine, marijuana, and moonshine. Drug dealers are actually required to pay, anonymously, of course, at the state revenue office where they would get a stamp to prove their payment.
The crack tax was disputed in the courts, with critics saying it violates the Fifth Amendment, which prevents individuals from having to incriminate themselves. In 2006, Tennessee actually collected $1.8 million in crack tax. But, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the tax unconstitutional in 2009 and repealed it.
A tax on nudity
If you want to sell products using nude or semi-nude models in Utah, you’re going to pay for it. The “sexually explicit business” tax is a 10% tax on fees, retail sales, or personal property sales like food and drinks that occur in a business with nude or partially nude individuals. These individuals could be dancing or waiting tables, and the tax applies. Interestingly, the state uses whatever revenue does come in from this tax to provide treatment for individuals convicted of sex offenses.
Entertainers paying income taxes for every show
If you’ve ever worked in multiple states during the same tax year, you may know that paying multiple income taxes can be tricky. Some states charge income taxes on all income earned in the state, while others charge taxes on all their residents regardless of where the income is earned. This tax is a little bit different.
It all started when the 1991 Chicago Bulls beat the LA Lakers in the playoffs. California responded with a tax on athletes from Chicago. (Chicago responded similarly.) Although such taxes don’t appear across the board, they do appear in most states that boast a professional sports team. Usually, the taxes apply to any sort of performer or entertainer, such as musicians or comedians.
Decks of cards
Both Nevada and Alabama have weird tax situations with decks of cards. In Alabama, you’ll pay a 10% tax on any deck of cards with 54 or fewer cards in the deck. But in Nevada, you actually get a free deck of cards when you file your tax return.
A tax on flush toilets
In 2004, Maryland enacted a tax that was meant to improve sewage treatment plants and protect the Chesapeake Bay. The tax is known as the flush tax. In some counties in Maryland, it’s applied to homeowners’ property insurance when they’re using a septic system. In 2012, the flush tax increased from $30 per year to $60 per year. So at least they aren’t tracking the actual number of flushes and taxing that!
Apparently this weird tax has been working, though. Thirteen years after it was enacted, one article noted that the money had been used to improve the Cox Creek Water Reclamation Facility, which reduces nitrogen and solid waste going into the Bay. As a result, water clarity is improving and bay grass coverage is coming back each year.
Bagel alteration tax
New York state is known for its bagels, and it has a weird tax on the books to prove it. If you buy an “altered” bagel, there’s an 8 cent tax to pay per bagel. So if you get your bagel cut or add schmear to it, you’re paying extra. The point is that food for home consumption isn’t taxable in New York, but if you’re buying food to eat at a restaurant, it is taxable.
Texas belt buckle tax
Outlandish cowboy belt buckles are a staple of what we think of when we think of cowboy garb. So you might want to pick one up when you visit Texas. If you do, just be aware that there’s a 6.25% sales tax on belt buckles. Luckily, you won’t have to pay the same tax on the cowboy boots you need to go with the belt buckle.
If you want a tattoo and live in Arkansas, you might want to get that ink on an out-of-state vacation. That’s because Arkansas has a 6% tax on tattoos and body piercings. Apparently they’d prefer that you don’t permanently alter your body in the state of Arkansas.
It’s not surprising that Maine taxes blueberries, one of its biggest exports. It’s such a big industry there that Maine takes a 1.5 cent per pound tax for wild blueberries. The profit is meant to support the Wild Blueberry Association of North America and also to promote research on wild blueberries. I don’t know about you, but I think that extra penny-and-a-half per pound is totally worthwhile for some fresh wild blueberries!
California is known for applying, or trying to pass, all sorts of interesting taxes aimed at improving citizens’ health. So this one is a head-scratcher. It actually puts a 33% tax on sliced fruits or fruit salads you can sometimes get from a vending machine. So when in California, buy your fruit from the farmer’s market or the grocery store, not the vending machine.
Taxes for health
As noted above, California has or has tried to propose all sorts of health-related taxes. And it’s not the only state. Illinois has a candy tax, but only on some candy. If the candy has flour as an ingredient, the state considers it to be just a regular food, which is taxed at 1%. But if it’s candy and doesn’t have flour as an ingredient, there’s an additional 5% tax.
Some cities, rather than states, also have taxes on sugary drinks like soda. Berkeley, California was the first U.S. city to tax those drinks. Philadelphia followed suit with a tax on both sugar-sweetened drinks and those sweetened by low-calorie sweeteners. That’s because Philadelphia’s tax was meant to raise money for schools and playgrounds.
These taxes do seem to decrease consumption of the targeted items within the city, but some of the research shows that consumers just shop outside of the city for these beverages now.
Those are just some of the weirdest taxes you may have to pay in your life. Most of them you probably won’t even know about, though, since they’re just part of what you’ll pay at the checkout for items you buy regularly. Whether or not you agree with these taxes, you can at least agree with us that they are an interesting way to accomplish the goals of reducing consumption of certain items or raising money for specific goals.