Derek Coleman: Taxes vary wildly from state to state

January 17, 2019

It’s tax season once more and my wife is busy at her office helping people file their returns. She’s actually been working toward this tax season since about August of last year, doing continuing education and learning about the tweaks, fixes and new tax laws those who govern us dream up.

As usual, there are some changes to the basic laws this year, but state laws are pretty much the same — although there are some of them that may seem a little strange.

Take Maine, for instance. Its official state fruit is the blueberry. Apparently these grow wild all over Maine, people harvest them and sell them on and so their legislature decided to impose a tax of one and a half cents on every pound sold. It may not seem like much, but it brings in revenue of $1.7 million a year. The state is also famed for its seafood and, to increase that revenue, they also have a tax of $1.25 per bushel on hard shell clams. These taxes are imposed on the companies that deal in the items, but you can be very sure they pass them on to us, the consumers.

Next door to Maine we have New Hampshire. They don’t tax fruit here, but they do tax dirt. It’s only large amounts of dirt, rocks or gravel that attract the tax man’s attention but, if you dig out more than 1,000 cubic yards of it then, even if you give it away, you’ll still be liable for a tax bill of two cents per cubic yard.

Virginia is another state that likes to tax the things it produces. They have a 50 cent tax on every sheep sold in the state. It doesn’t bring in a lot of revenue, but what it does get goes toward controlling predators that prey on the sheep flocks.

Body art seems to be popular these days, especially among the young. Tattoos and piercings are very common, but if you happen to be in the state of Arkansas then be warned, you’re going to pay an additional 6 percent tax even if you just have electrolysis to remove unwanted hair.

While we’re in the area, don’t forget Alabama. If you live there you’ll pay a Confederate Veteran’s Tax even though the last Confederate veteran in the state died 84 years ago. These days the tax, which brings in around half a million dollars a year, goes toward the upkeep of the local Confederate Memorial Park.

I’m a coffee lover. I don’t think I’d be able to function properly if I didn’t start my day with at least a cup or two, but I might have to cut back if I lived in Colorado and bought the beverage from a shop. The government of the Centennial State doesn’t try to impose extra tax on the coffee or the cup it comes in, but they do want an extra 2.9 percent on the lid that fits on the cup, the cardboard sleeve that stops you burning your fingers and the stirring stick. Soda drinkers aren’t exempt, either. The tax is for what they consider to be “non-essential” items and according to them, straws come into that category, too.

Sit in the basket of a hot air balloon on the ground in Kansas and the price you pay includes a 6.5 percent tax; if you untie the same balloon and take to the air it is considered to be a form of transportation and is free of tax.

Move on to Minnesota and you’ll find it can get real cold but if you want a warm coat it’s cheaper not to wear fur. You’ll pay an extra 6.8 percent tax on any garment made from it, the packing material it comes in and the cost of getting it to you.

Another of the country’s strangest taxes can be found in Indiana, where cake frosting is exempt but pre-made cake decorations are considered to be candy and therefore are subject to tax. While we’re talking about candy, in Illinois if your sweet treat contains flour, it’s tax free; if it doesn’t it’s candy and you’ll be charged tax on it.

New York City is famous for its bagels. Any deli will sell you as many as you want, tax free - unless you want it sliced or with any sort of topping. If you do, it becomes “prepared food” and you’ll pay an extra 8 cents tax for each one.

Don’t fall foul of the law while you’re in Tennessee; if you appear in court they’ll charge you $29.50 tax for the privilege, and don’t buy a pre-carved or decorated pumpkin in New Jersey, it’s not a food item and is therefore subject to tax.

You may want to dress like your favorite cowboy in Texas. The hat, shirt, pants, boots and belt are tax free but if you want a buckle on the belt then you’ll need to be prepared to pay an extra 6.25 percent tax. For some strange reason, belt buckles are not considered to be items of clothing.

Not all states impose strange taxes. Some will give you credits or even let you be exempt from paying tax at all.

If you’re thinking of getting married and you decide to do it in South Carolina for instance, then you would be well advised to have a pre-marriage counseling session with either a professional counselor or a member of the clergy. You and your intended would need to spend at least six hours listening to their advice but, once you’re married, the state allows you to claim a $50 tax credit when filing jointly.

Montana is one of the country’s biggest coal producers, but the state government there is clearly looking to the future. They will give a 35 percent tax discount to any resident who fits solar energy panels to their home.

Perhaps you just don’t want to pay state taxes? There are several states that don’t impose them, although they usually make up for this with big sales taxes. New Mexico does impose state taxes, but they allow an exemption. To qualify you need to live in the state for at least six months. You’ll also need to be there on Dec. 31 and not be listed as someone else’s dependent. There’s one more thing you’ll have to do: You’ll have to be 100 years old or older.

Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.

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