April 7, 2010
With 48 states facing budget shortfalls, it’s no wonder some are resorting to unorthodox measures to collect revenue. The Illinois state legislature recently revised its definition of what constitutes "candy" to broaden its tax base. Others are considering taxing services such as balloon rides and performances by clowns, jugglers and ventriloquists. For sure, the discerning taxpayer can find an off-beat break or two. If you are getting hitched in South Carolina or turning 100 in New Mexico, that could mean you. Read on for other state tax breaks and levies you may not know about.
Maine has a wild blueberry tax.
Maine produces 75 million pounds of wild blueberries a year, the most of any state or province in North America, and it’s trying to keep its dominant edge. Anyone who grows, buys, sells or handles the fruit in the state is subject to a three-fourths of a penny per pound tax — revenue which is then directed to research and educational programs to help growers yield bigger crops.
Hawaii allows tax deductions for "exceptional trees."
The "Aloha State" rewards residents for taking care of their greenery, so long as a certified arborist deems that greenery "exceptional." Individuals can deduct up to $3,000 from their gross taxable income for the costs associated with maintaining "a tree with historic or cultural value or that, by reason of its age, rarity, location, size, esthetic quality, or endemic status, is worthy of preservation." One caveat: the deduction is limited to once every three consecutive years.
MONEY DOWN THE DRAIN
Maryland charges a flush tax.
A 2004 Maryland law declares that households using municipal water or septic systems get $2.50 added to their water bill monthly — revenue which then goes toward upgrading sewage plants’ technological processes for removing harmful nutrients from the water. The fund has provided more than $159 million so far for wastewater-treatment plant upgrades, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
DOUBLE OR NOTHING
Oregon offers a $50 tax credit for the permanent and complete loss of two limbs.
If a county public health officer signs a form confirming eligibility, individuals fitting that criteria will be credited $50 per year.
THE MICHAEL STEELE TAX
Texas collects a strip club "pole tax."
Texas requires strip clubs that sell alcohol to impose a $5-per-customer levy on admission. Though the state has collected more than $13.6 million in revenue from this tax since it was enacted at the beginning of 2008, the state Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments to overturn the tax on grounds that it infringes on citizens’ first amendment right to freedom of expression. Though the decision is not expected for months, the millions in collected fees are being held in an account until that point.
Arkansas has a “damaged car” tax credit.
The flood and tornado-prone state extends a sales tax credit to taxpayers whose vehicles have been destroyed or severely damaged by a natural disaster. The vehicle must be damaged to the extent that its value is less than 30 percent of its retail value, as spelled out by the NADA Official Price Guide, and the owner must have paid sales tax on the vehicle within 180 days of making the claim.
Illinois imposes extra taxes on "candy" without flour.
In September 2009, the Illinois legislature hiked sales taxes on candies from 1 percent to 6.25 percent, and also changed the definition of candy. Under the new law, sweets that contain flour, such as Twix, Butterfingers, and Kit Kats, are considered food instead of candy, and therefore are not subject to the added tax. The law defines a candy as "any sugar-based product not requiring refrigeration nor containing flour."
INSPECTED BY NUMBER 301
South Carolina offers a $50-per-couple credit for premarital counseling.
Couples can rake in an extra fifty bucks by completing a six-hour premarital course taught by "an active member of the clergy in the course of his or her service as clergy, or his or her designee who is trained and skilled." As long as that couple obtains a certificate of completion and a state marriage license in that tax year, that money is theirs.
100 AND COUNTING
New Mexico exempts people 100 years of age or older from paying income taxes.
In addition to celebrating a 100th birthday, New Mexico centenarians can also relish in an income tax break. So long as these people are not claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer, they will qualify.
What else do you think should be taxed? What do you think should be credited?