“Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society”
This famous quote by US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr is carved over the entrance of the IRS’s headquarters in Washington DC.
When you read it aloud, it’s pithy and sounds enlightened and sophisticated, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing, even though the majority of taxes collected enhance society and are in place to fund welfare and public services, there are others that, let’s say, aren’t. Some are logical and others, not so much.
Here are some of the strangest ones I know about:
- The Jock Tax: Back in 1991 after the Chicago Bulls beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals, California responded by taxing the earnings of the Chicago Bulls players (and all others associated with the team who made the trip to California). Illinois evened the score (see what I did there;) by initiating their own jock tax. There are now about 30 states and municipalities that have jock taxes in place.
- California’s Fruit Tax: It’s not unusual for states to ratify taxes to curb unhealthy behaviors. But I don’t know what was behind the 33 percent tax California added to fruit bought in vending machine. Seems like they’d prefer you bought candy—which is not taxed at the same exorbitant rate—in the next machine.
- Tax on Illegal Drugs: Tennessee passed a law in 2005 (called the crack tax) that required drug dealers to pay taxes anonymously (duh) on illegal substances like marijuana, cocaine and moonshine. After paying they would receive a stamp as a receipt of payment. If they were arrested and didn’t have a stamp, the state would also go after money owed. Tennessee collected more than $6 million from the crack tax before it was overturned in 2009 by the Tennessee Supreme Court. It was deemed unconstitutional.
The US isn’t the only place with weird tax laws. Read on:
- Canada’s Tax-Break on Breakfast Cereal: Evidently, our neighbors to the north grant cereal makers a tax exemption if their boxes of cereal contain a free toy. If you wonder why this made my list, it’s because the tax exemption is limited to toys that are not beer, wine or liquor. Without the added stipulation, do you think our Canadian buddies could be enjoying some free red wine with their Wheaties?
- China’s Pro-Smoking Campaign: On the flip side of taxing unhealthy behaviors, the citizens of the Hubei province of China find themselves living in an upside-down world. In 2009 China was in an economic crisis and since most of the local taxes come from cigarette sales, residents were ordered to buy cigarettes or face a fine. The government thought the pro-cigarette smoking tax was a great solution since it would not only provide tax revenue from the sale of the cigarettes but would also bring financial prosperity to China’s local cigarette makers. Win-win (cough-cough)!
- Sweden’s Baby Name Approval: Swedish citizens are required to submit their baby’s name to the Swedish tax agency for approval within 3 months of their birth or face a fine of 5,000 kroner ($770 U.S.). The law was instituted in 1982 to prevent citizens from using royal names. It was replaced by another law in 2017 that says that a first name will not be approved if it’s felt it could cause offense to others, or discomfort for the one using it.
Believe me when I say the above list is just a small handful of the many bizarre tax laws I read about while doing my research. It seems like lawmakers are only limited by their imaginations—and boy are they an imaginative group!
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