Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures (Part II)

August 4, 2021

Last week, we talked about one of Uncle Sam’s priciest problems. Specifically, the current lineup of taxes on income, payrolls, corporations, gifts, estates, imports, and gas and alcohol sales isn’t getting the job done. We’re collecting almost $12 billion/day, and we’re still $29 trillion in the hole! Clearly, we need some creative thinking. So why not turn to some lesser-known taxes that different governments have used to help make ends meet? Last week we looked at windows, beards, wig powder, and baby names. What else should we be taxing to fill the hole?

  • Litigation: When Shakespeare’s dopey Dick the Butcher says, “let’s kill all the lawyers” (Henry VI, Part II), he isn’t bashing lawyers; he’s bashing the rule of law that stands in the way of his rebellion. But that doesn’t stop Tennessee from hitting litigants with taxes ranging from $1 for parking violations to $3,000 for sex offenders. Today’s voters are more divided than at any time since the Civil War, but does anyone doubt we could abandon partisanship long enough to slap a tax on court cases? Too bad Congress is so full of lawyers!
  • Toilets: The state of Maryland charges a “flush tax” of $60/year — more formally known as the “Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fee” — to finance upgrading 67 sewer treatment plants that discharge into the bay. (No questions on the “enhanced nutrient removal process,” please.) Flushing, like air conditioning, has become a necessity of modern life. Luckily, Uncle Sam didn’t figure this out in time to tax toilet paper during last year’s shortages!
  • Mahogany Quahogs: If you’re visiting Maine, love shellfish but hate lobster, and think the Pine Tree state needs more revenue, then Maine’s mahogany quahog clam tax is the answer to your oddly specific prayer. The Maine Revenue Service’s Mahogany Quahog Dealers Report (Form Qua) slaps a $1.20 tax on every bushel of the briny treat. Every state should nominate one local delicacy as their tax “tribute” — how much do you think we can raise on Chicago’s gooey deep-dish pizza, Philly’s iconic cheese-steak sandwiches, and Ohio’s delicious Cincinnati-style chili?
  • Coin-Operated Laundromats: South Dakota levies a $16 nontransferable annual license on coin-operated washers and dryers — $20 if they’re located in a municipality of more than 1,000. The instructions to Form 0872 even helpfully list all 62 municipalities that qualify. (If you feel foolish because you didn’t know South Dakota taxes laundromats, imagine how foolish you’d feel if you were one of the readers just now learning we have two Dakotas!)
  • Cow Flatulence. When it comes to greenhouse gases, fossil fuels take most of the blame. But the European Union has found that up to 18% of the continent’s emissions come from cows. (Your eight-year-old uses a shorter f-word than flatulence, and he giggles when he says it.) The answer? Taxing the cows is more than just hot air. Denmark currently levies the highest cow tax in Europe at €80 per head. Here in the states, Texas is home to 4,685,000 of the gassy critters, and we’ll see a Texas cow tax long before we see a Texas income tax.

We’re not sure just what to take away from this motley collection of tax bills. Be careful what you wish for, maybe? Things can always be worse? Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas? Maybe our current tax system isn’t as bad as we think. At least we know the “green lights” we can use to pay less!

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