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Strangest taxes in the USA

united states revenue air tax “pole tax” archery

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#1 Hum

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 23:21

Although taxes are one of life’s certainties, they can still surprise you.

Sliced Bagel Tax, New York

Consider the iconic New York bagel: decide to have yours toasted, and it’ll come with a tax. The rationale is that sliced bagels are usually consumed on a café’s or store’s premises—and restaurant meals are taxed, whereas groceries (like a dozen unsliced bagels) are not.

State governments can be remarkably efficient when it comes to finding creative ways to pick up extra cash, and some of their esoteric taxes affect tourists as well as residents. Whether it’s a tax on a hot-air balloon ride over the plains of Kansas or a lid for a coffee cup sold in Colorado, these strange fees won’t inflict serious damage on your wallet. But they will make you say, “Huh?”

Bagels are a New York institution, but not all are taxed equally. Order yours cut in half or request it toasted or topped with cream cheese, and you’ll pay about 8 cents extra. Sliced bagels are usually consumed on a café or store’s premises—and in many states, restaurant meals are taxed, whereas groceries are not. (A loaf of sliced bread at a bakery comes tax free.)

Blueberry Tax, Maine

In Maine, blueberries are big business: the Vacationland State produces 99 percent of our nation’s blueberries, averaging 80 to 85 million pounds per year. If you enjoy some this summer, count on being taxed. Anyone “growing, handling, processing, selling, or purchasing” the famous export must pay up, according to Maine’s state legislature.

Playing Card Tax, Alabama

While you can bet you’ll be taxed on gambling in many states, Alabama takes a particularly hard line. Buy a deck of playing cards—even for innocuous reasons like keeping the family amused on a road trip—and it comes with a tax of 10 cents per pack. If you consider the tax unjustified, here’s some perspective: sellers pay an additional $1 per pack. On second thought, however, that cost probably gets passed right on to you.

Vending Machine Fruit Tax, California

California is known for farmers’ markets, heavenly produce, and restaurants that have long championed what’s fresh and local. And while fresh fruit is duty free, the pre-sliced variety of dubious origin sold in vending machines is not. If you’re somehow compelled to press the button, you’ll pay a staggering 33 percent tax—and honestly, you probably deserve it.

Coffee Lid Tax, Colorado

Order a latte to go from a Denver coffee shop, and you won’t have to pay an extra cent for the paper cup. But if you want a lid to prevent that hot liquid from spilling onto your pants (or, you know, burning your lap), that part of the container will be taxed. It turns out Colorado deems coffee lids and napkins to be “nonessential” packaging, which makes them subject to the state’s 2.9 percent tax.

Hot-Air Balloon Tax, Kansas

Unlike most amusement park rides, a hot-air balloon lets you linger high above the landscape and actually enjoy the view. But in Kansas, that luxury comes with a tax—unless the balloon isn’t tied down. Untethered, piloted balloons that travel some distance are considered a method of air transportation and so, thanks to the federal Anti-Head Tax Act, are exempt from the state’s amusement tax.

Tattoo, Piercing, and Electrolysis Tax, Arkansas

If you’re seeking a more permanent road-trip souvenir, Arkansas may not be the best state to get inked. As of 2005, all tattoos, body piercings, and even electrolysis hair-removal treatments are subject to Arkansas’s 6 percent sales tax. In retrospect, this makes a sort of sense: Arkansas is officially known as The Natural State.


Strip Club Admission Tax, Texas

Bring an extra five singles if you decide to scope out any of Texas’s 200 or so strip clubs. In 2011, club owners challenged the $5 “pole tax” passed in 2007, claiming it violated the right to free speech, but the court ruled it constitutional. The tax has so far raised more than $15 million—a portion of which funds sexual assault prevention programs.

Arrow Tax

No matter which state you visit, arrows will cost you. In 2012, the feds upped a long-standing excise tax on arrows. Now archery enthusiasts pay the Tax Man an additional 46 cents for arrows 18 inches or longer. Wooden arrows designed for kids are exempt, and the funds go toward wildlife restoration. (If you were wondering, bows are taxed at 11 percent.)

Air Tax, Pennsylvania

We swear this tax wasn’t implemented on April Fool’s Day. In the Keystone State, coin-operated vacuum vending machines are indeed subject to a “use” tax. So if you like to keep a clean car—or can’t wrap your head around paying a tax on oxygen and nitrogen—it makes sense to exit Pennsylvania before taking yours to the car wash. :s

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#2 Growled

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 01:22

I tell ya, it's just a matter of time before they figure out a creative way to tax the air we breath.

#3 M.F.D.K

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 01:32

^ You can choose between a 2 yrs contract or pay as you breath plan.

#4 PhilTheThrill

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 01:37

All pretty much consumption taxes which many people find favourable to direct taxes on your income for example.

Also have the advantage of being somewhat self regulating. You couldn't make the tax on blueberries $10 a box for example because the consumer would simply not buy them. You could however raise income tax 10% and people would be forced to pay it.

#5 OP Hum

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:10

^ The Revolution is coming ...

#6 theyarecomingforyou

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:25

I tell ya, it's just a matter of time before they figure out a creative way to tax the air we breath.


The EPA is responsible for air quality, so technically you're already taxed for the air you breathe.

#7 thejohnnyq

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:29

Little fact here, Maine doesn't produce 99% of the nation's Blueberries, that is a complete lie. They process some, and lead the nation, but in 2011 they lead the nation with only 16% not 99%. Maine uses blueberries that other states cultivated. The states in produced (grown) is New Jersey, Georgia, Oregon, Michigan, California in that order. This information is from Cornell Blueberry report.

#8 vetneufuse

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:30

I've lived in Pennsylvania my whole life, and I've never once heard of or seen an "Air Tax" on vacuum usage at a car wash

#9 OP Hum

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 14:05

^ It is 'hidden' in the $1 price they charge at the coin slot.

A small percentage is collected by the State.

#10 vetneufuse

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 18:34

^ It is 'hidden' in the $1 price they charge at the coin slot.

A small percentage is collected by the State.


$1? gawd vacuums around me cost a whole 50 cents to use, or are included in the car wash price

#11 OP Hum

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 20:06

^ Still, they send a percentage of the coins you put in to PA state revenue.

On a dollar, they take 6 cents, on 50 cents, 3 cents.

I live in a greedier area, where the car washes charge a dollar to vacuum.

It is the same with the 'track' programs at the races. The don't bother with 1 and .06 -- they hide the tax in the prices.

#12 vetneufuse

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 22:43

^ Still, they send a percentage of the coins you put in to PA state revenue.

On a dollar, they take 6 cents, on 50 cents, 3 cents.

I live in a greedier area, where the car washes charge a dollar to vacuum.

It is the same with the 'track' programs at the races. The don't bother with 1 and .06 -- they hide the tax in the prices.


I was just pointing out that $1 seems high to me since everyone around me is 50 cents :p

#13 metallithrax

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 22:46

I think the worst has got to be the tax on lottery winnings, and other such winnings.

#14 Growled

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 02:11

The EPA is responsible for air quality, so technically you're already taxed for the air you breathe.


That's even sneakier, I'm paying for it and didn't even know it.

#15 OP Hum

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 14:21

^ If you think about it, you couldn't breathe without paying for the food you eat.