A Tax on Arrows? Nuttiest New Taxes

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Candy, Sodas: Illinois applies to candy a surcharge of 5 percent over and above its 1.25 percent sales tax on food. But candy isn't candy—at least not for tax purposes—if it contains flour. Malted milk balls thus would be exempt, wax mustaches would not. In Chicago, a soda served from a soda fountain is taxed 9 percent; the same soda drunk from a bottle or a can is taxed 3 percent

Litigation: New York taxes litigation, which makes sense, since so much of it is manufactured here. Newcastle taxed coal. Any New Yorker involved in criminal or civil proceedings pays a flat $25.

Bagels, Pets: In Durham, North Carolina, residents who own a cat or dog must pay tax, since the state considers pets to be personal property no different from, say, a TV or stereo—though there would be a difference if a stereo or TV could be neutered. The tax on spayed or neutered pets is $10. But on animals intact, it is $75. This is the reverse of New York's bagel tax, which applies an eight cent charge to altered bagels (ones sliced and schmeered) but not to ones uncut.

Balloon Rides: Kansas wisely distinguishes between tethered balloons and balloons set free. The latter, says efile.com, "are considered a legitimate form of air transportation." Thus rides in the former are taxed as amusements, rides in the latter are not.

In Pennsylvania--as in every other state--there's a tax on alcohol. But Pennsylvania's tax arose as a response to the devastating Johnstown flood, which killed several thousand people in the 19th century. A follow-up flood in '36 did more damage. The state imposed a tax on alcohol to raise money to rebuild the city, and in 1942 rebuilding was complete. Yet the tax remains, picking Pennsylvanians' pockets of $200 million annually.

Be careful what you wish for? Yes. But be careful what you tax. Silly or otherwise, taxes are forever.

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