Charlotte Laws, Ph.D.
Member of the
 Greater Valley Glen Council
21781 Ventura Blvd., Suite 633
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
Tel.  818.346.5280
Fax.  818.985.1690

Dr. Charlotte Laws - Councilperson Valley Glen

Tax relief? Hardly
Beyond federal income tax, the burden only grows

LOS ANGELES (CBS.MW) - October brought us the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 and the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004. American voters were sufficiently pleased with these tax cuts to give President Bush and his crew another term.

And why not? A family with two small children, with a household income of $70,000, could pay about $100 per month in federal income taxes, under the present tax laws. All they need to do is to put $6,000 into IRAs or 401(k) plans and $5,000 into a health savings account (or flexible spending account) to cover health insurance and medical costs, and pay for child care or pre-school for their two children.

OK, so we may be feeling better about our tax burden. With tax bills being so much lower, we're also less likely to have to interact with IRS. After all, we can pay these smaller tax bills, right? No need to fudge on the tax returns.

Well, the money to run this country and to pay for all the services we take for granted will have to come from somewhere. Just because we're not feeling the pain on the federal tax forms doesn't mean the burden is decreasing.

Let's look around and see what we're really paying tax on, shall we?

Sales taxes All over the country, we are hearing rumblings from states and even cities and counties wanting to increase sales taxes, which in some urban areas can run as high as 10 percent already.

In Utica, N.Y., the Oneida County Board of Legislators has approved a hike in the county sales tax to 9.75 percent, up from 8.25 percent - an 18 percent increase.

Although voters in Los Angeles County rejected a city sales tax hike for funds to hire more police officers, James Hahn, the mayor of the City of Los Angeles tried to get the funds by raising the city's sales taxes.

Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley proposes raising sales taxes by .25 percentage points to fend off a $220 million budget deficit. Of course, Daley also wants to raise taxes on cigarettes, liquor and amusements and even tack $1 on car rentals.

Expect cities, counties and states to find ways to raise these taxes - even if they have to find a way to get around the voters.

Fueling around We pay federal taxes of 18.3 cents per gallon of gasoline. But most states also charge gasoline taxes.

If you want to drive your car in Georgia you will pay 7.5 cents per gallon of gas; in New York it's 8 cents per gallon. Stay away from the pumps in Rhode Island where they add a shocking 30 cents to each gallon of gasoline. California, notorious for smog and high taxes, only charges an extra 18 cents.

Due to all the wear and tear on the roads - and the problems with storms and other natural elements - they need repairs and improvements. Despite the higher prices at the pumps, expect to see increases in fuel taxes.

No whining about alcohol We're paying federal and state taxes on alcohol - beer, wine and liquor - and paying sales taxes on top of the excise taxes.

If you want to pay the least taxes - buy beer. The taxes are typically only pennies per gallon. Raise a stein to Wyoming, where beer taxes are cheapest - only 2 cents per gallon. But you'd better own a piece of the pipeline in Alaska, where liquor can cost you as much as $12.80 per gallon in taxes. Wine taxes fall somewhere in between beer and liquor....even Alaska only charges $2.5 per gallon.

All puffed up You might want to make the Great American Smoke-out permanent. If you buy a pack of cigarettes in New Jersey the state adds $2.05 to the price. Rather than hitting the duty-free shops, do your cigarette shopping in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina or South Carolina where they only charge you 2.5 cents to 7 cents per pack.

Look for increases in both alcohol and tobacco taxes in the next couple of years. Legislators feel the public won't be too vocal objecting to sin taxes. In fact, Oakland, California, Mayor Jerry Brown wants to aggressively tax our bad habits. He'd like to see a tax on junk food - and chocolate, modeled after Canada's tax policies.

Pretty-penny property Property taxes generally provide funds for schools and local infrastructure. But for homeowners, they're a burden - especially to those who have no children and resent having to support the schools.

To pay the least in property taxes, consider moving to Louisiana where you'll pay under $500 annually for the same kind of home that would cost you more than $7,000 in Connecticut.

Although most states don't have personal property taxes, except on businesses, about a dozen states do. Jackson, Miss., and Columbia, S.C., have the highest personal property taxes - but their regular property taxes are modest compared to other states.

Many states have either legislated limits to property tax, or understand how sensitive it is to propose increases. So you won't see any overt increases in property taxes. But you will see sneak attacks: special assessments, or bond payments or other additions to your property tax. The worst news: where property taxes are deductible on federal income tax returns, other forms of assessment are not.

Lots of other taxes We haven't even scratched the surface of other taxes - imaginative or mundane. We're subject to amusement taxes every time we go to the movies; tolls on highways; bed taxes in hotels; gate taxes at airports; gift taxes; payroll taxes; communications taxes (have you seen your phone bill or cell phone bill, lately?); utility taxes....

And then there are the bizarre taxes - 11 states have an illegal-drug tax. Utah has a sex-sales tax (don't ask.) West Virginia shines with their sparkler-and-novelty tax. Maine taxes blueberries (someone needs a better lobby). Alabama taxes your playing cards.

If you do some digging, you might just find that your state has some odd taxes that you didn't realize. Send us a note about your state's most bizarre tax and we'll post them all.

Eva Rosenberg is the founder of and an enrolled agent licensed to represent taxpayers before the IRS.

Originally published on November 25, 2004
Excerpted from the New York Daily News