Strange Taxes Imposed by States

Remaining Single in Missouri Might Cost You

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States, counties and municipalities impose taxes for good reason — to raise the money necessary to keep them up and running. The revenues go toward vital things like transportation infrastructures and law enforcement salaries. Some legislators have gotten pretty creative when conceiving ways to drum up tax dollars. These state and local governments have come up with some interesting taxes to squeeze a little more money out of residents’ and visitors’ pockets.

Crime Doesn’t Pay, Unless You’re the Government

Steer clear of Tennessee if you have criminal intentions. Even if you’re not found guilty, you’ll pay a $25 tax just to appear in court here. The tax applies to civil lawsuits as well. If you’re not yet legally an adult, you might be spared, however. The tax doesn’t typically apply to juveniles.

Innovative Taxes on Clothing

Haute couture brings in extra tax dollars in Minnesota. Pay careful attention to the materials used to make that fur coat you’re ogling. If it has at least three times more fur than the next most valuable fabric or material, this will incur an extra 6.5 percent tax. Technically, the seller is responsible for paying this, but let’s be real. What seller doesn’t pass these costs on to its customers?

If you’re taking a road trip with baby, you might want to avoid passing through Connecticut. The state takes the position that disposable diapers are actually clothing so you’ll pay a 6.35 percent sales tax on any you buy there, but here’s some good news — if you’re traveling with your incontinent mother-in-law, her adult diapers are tax-free.

Transportation-Related Taxes

Clean out your vehicle before you hit the Pennsylvania border, or wait to tidy up the floors until you pass through the state on the other side. Coin-operated vacuums are subject to a sales tax here.

If you want to go airborne in an unconventional way, Kansas is the place to do it.

You can ride in a hot air balloon here without paying any extra taxes, but you’ll want to make sure that the balloon is capable of rising. Otherwise, you’ll pay a sales tax. If the balloon is tethered to the ground, it’s not considered transportation because it can’t go anywhere. It’s an amusement, and amusements incur a 6.5 percent sales tax here.

Food, Dining and Beverage Taxes

Food sustains life so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a lot of states zero in on ways to collect tax dollars for nourishment. Some are pretty tricky about it, too.

It can get hot in Arizona — really hot. But think twice if you decide to cool down with ice. That cube plopped into your soft drink or cocktail won’t cost you any additional tax, but a block of ice will. Apparently, size does matter, at least in this state. 

Choose your snacks wisely in Illinois. The state automatically imposes a 1 percent sales tax on food, but you’ll pay an additional tax if the product doesn’t contain any flour. That’s right — flour means it’s just plain food. No flour means it’s actually candy, so you must pay an extra 5 percent over and above that initial 1 percent.

Vermont is a bit hinky about sugar or sugar substitutes. You’ll pay an extra 6 percent there for beverages or liquids that contain either — including the state’s famed maple syrup.

California will get you on healthier foods. If you buy fruit in a grocery store, it’s tax free, but if you buy it from a vending machine, you’ll be zapped with a whopping 33 percent sales tax.

That bagel you purchase in New York can cost you, but you can dodge the bullet if you drop it in a plastic bag and carry it “unaltered” out of the store. As soon as store or bakery personnel slice it for you, add a little lox and cream cheese, or otherwise tamper with its natural state, you’ll pay an additional 8 percent sales tax. The state’s rationale is that if you ask for any of these extra touches, you’re obviously intending to consume your carbs right there on the premises, and that incurs the tax even if the bagel is neatly wrapped up to go.

If you have a fondness for blueberries, you might want to avoid buying them in Maine where they’ll cost you an extra 1.5 cents per pound — of course, that’s still a lot cheaper than buying them from a vending machine in California.

Caffeine addicts suffer in Colorado, but only when they purchase coffee-to-go and ask for a lid on the cup. The state considers the cup a necessity — it’s kind of hard to enjoy your coffee without one. But popping a lid on it so you can drive with it or carry it without sloshing will cost you extra. Colorado says the lid is “non-essential,” so add 2.9 percent to your tab.

Pennsylvania launched a “flood tax” back in the 1930s to help defray costs associated with the Johnstown flood. That water has long since ebbed, but the tax remains — 18 percent levied on every bottle of liquor you purchase here.

South Carolina takes an opposite approach. This state actually offers a food-related tax break — sort of. Every deer you donate to charity earns you a $50 tax deduction, but you can’t just drop the carcass at the charity’s door. It must be prepared first by a licensed butcher or meat packer, which might cost you at least $50.

Taxes on Entertainment

If you enjoy card games, play in Nevada, not Alabama. Nevada hands out a free deck of cards for every income tax return filed — no real surprise there. But Alabama charges an extra 10 percent sales tax on decks with up to 54 cards.

If hunting is your favorite pastime, plan your next vacation to coincide with Louisiana’s annual Second Amendment sales tax holiday. Sales of ammunition, firearms and other hunting gear are tax-free during this time.

Several states have made the news lately by legalizing marijuana, but Oregon seized on a tax opportunity associated with the new legislation. Recreational marijuana carries a really significant 25-percent sales tax. You might want to stock up in California before crossing the state line if this is your thing, then wait and buy fruit to satisfy your munchies from a vending machine in Oregon.

Sex Can Be Taxable, Too 

Animals like to have fun, too. Kentucky charges a unique 6 percent sales tax on thoroughbred stud fees. Of course, the horses don’t have to pay it.

Utah taxes its humans on similar pursuits. There’s an extra 10-percent sales tax there on escort services and purchases made at strip clubs.

Then there’s Missouri, a state that apparently wants its men to get married and stay home. You’ll pay $1 a year here if you’re a male between the ages of 21 and 50 and you’re single. It’s certainly a fair price to pay if you covet your bachelorhood, and the state might be onto something here. How many of its residents fall into these perimeters, all of them willingly coughing up a $1 tax each year in exchange for freedom from matrimony? There may be enough to pave a highway or two or five. Interestingly, women aren't subject to a similar tax. 

Taxes on Hearth, Home and at Least One Basic Necessity

It’s said that a man’s home is his castle, but his yard can be pretty important, too — at least if he lives in Hawaii and the trees he’s planted out there are considered “exceptional.” Thanks to the state’s Exceptional Tree Act, you can write off up to $3,000 in costs associated with planting and maintaining really great trees, but that copse of banyans next to your driveway might not cut it. The trees in question have to be rare and esthetically pleasing, among other things. It also helps if they’re very big.

Don’t tell Fido, but he’s not exactly your best friend if you live in Durham County, North Carolina. He’s considered your personal property. As such, you’ll pay a sales tax to buy him and bring him home. But the state will cut you a break if your pet is spayed or neutered. Animals older than four months who can make babies are subject to a $75 tax, but all others are levied at only $10.

Maryland imposes a tax on flushing your toilet. Sewer services and septic systems are taxed at $5 a month. But you can take heart because you’re doing your part for the environment when you pay it. The money goes to the Coastal Bays Restoration Fund.