Why not just tax our feet and the heat?

By Tom Joyce

November 2, 2013

It’s been said that death and taxes are the only things we can be certain about, which appear to be two separate items until you consider the notion that we’re being taxed to death.

We all know there is no escape from federal income taxes, state income taxes and their first cousins property taxes, sales taxes and gas taxes. You might call these the Big Five (unless one is lucky enough to live in a state that doesn’t collect income taxes).

Of course, all the money generated from these goes to the government, which supposedly uses it for the public good, such as funding schools, road needs and various services like law enforcement.

I get the fact life is not a free ride, and it would be unrealistic to expect no taxation at all — despite how opposed groups such as the Tea Party are to that.

But what really irritates me is all the additional ways government finds to wring money out of people besides the Big Five — in other words, to nickel and dime us to death.

I thought about this the other day while interviewing candidates for the Patrick County, Va., Board of Supervisors. Among the various choices on the election ballot in Patrick is a proposal to implement a 4 percent meals tax countywide.

This would apply not only to food sold in restaurants, but non-profit groups such as civic clubs or volunteer fire departments — who are fond of selling items such as pancakes and barbecue plates to support their community activities. They would be limited to three events a year at which they could sell food without collecting taxes.

The interesting thing about the meals tax involves the fact that governing officials in Patrick seem more willing to give up their right arm rather than increase property taxes. That has been a common theme in Surry County, Mount Airy and elsewhere, based on the idea that people can’t stand to pay more.

But in Patrick County, and other places I presume, somehow it’s OK to impose these other nickel-and-dime taxes.

Keep in mind that food is something every human being needs for survival, which includes meals sold in restaurants. So when there’s a meals tax in a community, it means some poor frazzled mom trying to feed her kids — who is too tired to cook — must pay extra when taking them out to eat.

When added up over time, a meals tax hurts not only Mom’s pocketbook, but the restaurant business in general if she decides to feed the kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead.

I’m sure that holed up deep in a cave somewhere in the wilds of Lower Slobbovia, there’s a secret group dedicated to trying to find all kinds of new ways to tax the populace.

Some quick research revealed several strange examples of this around the country.

One is a tax on playing cards in Alabama, where people who buy them must pay a 10-cent tax. I guess there isn’t as much Texas hold ‘em or spades played in Alabama as there is in other places.

Then there is the so-called “rain tax” imposed in 10 Maryland counties. Known in bureaucratese as a “stormwater-remediation” fee, it basically penalizes people for having a building or parking lot. The law requires them to pay a tax as part of a plan to reduce stormwater runoff into the Cheasapeake Bay.

The whole thing seems kind of arbitrary to me — yet another back-door tactic to squeeze more money out of property owners.

Even aesthetic “improvements” to one’s own body can’t escape the tax collector. My research further revealed that in Arkansas, people are assessed a 6 percent tax when they get a tattoo, body piercing or electrolysis.

Then there are the other standard taxes that seem to be in place everywhere, such as beer and wine and cigarette taxes. I just hope they don’t impose a sex tax, but you never know…

All this reminds me of an old song by The Beatles, appropriately called “Taxman.” Though they recorded it in the 1960s, its message is still relevant today, particularly the great lengths bureaucrats are willing to go to get more money from people.

One part of the song captures this perfectly:

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,

If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.

If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat,

If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.”

It’s no wonder that Tax Freedom Day, the point where U.S. citizens have met all their local, state and federal taxation obligations before what they earn goes into their own pockets, gets later each year.

This year it came on April 18, according to an organization called the Tax Foundation, which says Americans will spend more in taxes in 2013 than they will on food, clothing and housing combined.

It looks like The Beatles were right when they sang: “I’m the taxman, and you’re working for no one but me.”

Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or