Very Serious Stuff


When most of us think about taxes, we think about them in very serious terms – the important revenue taxes bring in, the looming deadline of Tax Day, or the seriousness of an audit. It's true that the IRS and state tax agencies are full of Very Serious People collecting Very Serious Taxes. But state and local governments also impose some tax laws that might appear somewhat silly as well. Here are some of our favorites:

  • California offers a tax exemption for income you receive to settle claims arising out of the Armenian genocide. If you or your ancestors were persecuted by the Ottoman Turkish Empire between 1915 and 1923, your income from that settlement is tax-exempt. But sadly, if the persecution occurred in 1924 or later, your friends in Sacramento want a share.
  • California also imposes a 33% tax on fresh fruit bought from vending machines. Apparently, the folks in charge of promoting healthy lifestyles would rather see you buy cookies or potato chips!
  • Maryland imposes a $5.00/month "Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fee" on homeowners and businesses to raise funds to improve sewer treatment plants that discharge into the bay. Naturally, taxpayers have dubbed it the "flush tax."
  • Minnesota and several other states impose a tax on marijuana. But wait, is marijuana even legal in Minnesota? Well, no, it's not. But if dealers don't pay the tax, the state has another way to bust them.
  • New York lets you buy bagels and take them home to eat without paying sales tax. But let the counter man slice it, and now it's a "prepared" meal for on-premises consumption and subject to an 8% sales tax.
  • Oregon generously gives double amputees a $50 tax credit. But lose just one limb and you're out of luck (apparently, it costs an arm and a leg to be disabled in Oregon).
  • South Carolina offers a $50 per carcass "Venison for Charity" credit, with an actual form for licensed butchers and meat packers who donate deer meat for distribution to the needy.
  • Washington's King County, which includes Seattle, imposes a new $50 fee to report a death to the Medical Examiner's office. Officials call it a crime-prevention measure to give the government enough money to look at more questionable deaths for evidence of crime.

Governments have always found silly ways to nickel-and-dime their citizens. And some of those are just plain unavoidable (if you live in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay watershed and you've got to go, well, you've just got to go). But there's nothing silly about wasting money on taxes you don't have to pay. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the constantly changing tax laws and make sure you maximize your return so you only pay what you rightfully owe!