And the Gold Goes To

2/19/2014

If you're like most of us, you've spent at least some time over the past couple of weeks watching the games of the 22nd Winter Olympiad. Who cares if the host city Sochi, a Black Sea beach resort, is warmer than Miami, Florida? 2,800 athletes from 88 countries have traveled to compete in 98 events, and the world is a better place for the fellowship.  

Olympic games are famous for sports we don't usually see anywhere else. In the summer games, we get rhythmic gymnastics (dancing with a ribbon), dressage (dancing with a horse), and trampoline (dancing on a trampoline). In the winter games, it's ice dancing (to give you your dancing fix), biathlon mixed relay (dancing on cross-country skis with guns), and curling. So, in that same vein, what if nations competed for taxes we don't usually see? These would be our picks for medalists in the coveted "weird tax rule" event:  

  • Bronze: Tethered Hot Air Balloons in Kansas. Kansas levies a sales tax on "any place providing amusement, entertainment, or recreation services." That sounds straightforward enough. But the federal Anti-Head Tax Act prohibits state and local governments from taxing airlines or airport users. How does Kansas apply that law to hot-air balloon rides? Well, if the balloon stays tethered to the ground and doesn't actually go anywhere, it's a taxable amusement. But if it actually flies somewhere, you're off the hook for the tax!
  • Silver: Cereal Toys in Canada. Cereal companies know that kids really just want the cheap throwaway toy at the bottom of the box. (Cracker jack knew that a century ago!) But in Canada, cereal makers have even more reason to add toys to their sugary goodness. That's because they can avoid the usual tax on cereal by throwing a toy in the box — so long as the toy doesn't qualify as "beer, liquor, or wine."
  • Gold: Cow Flatulence in Europe. When you think of global pollution, you probably blame coal-fired electric plants or smoggy freeways. But the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization estimates that methane from slow-digesting cows accounts for up to 18% of Europe's production of greenhouse gases. Several European Union nations have enacted taxes on their cows to help keep those gases in check. They range from $18 per cow in Ireland all the way up to $110 per cow in Denmark!