Archive for May, 2008

Why Did I Eat Fish & Chips?

May 30, 2008

I’ve been asking myself that question ever since I finished lunch today. Even worse, why did I eat that greasy meal at the has-been Arthur Treacher’s chain? And why did I eat it in Alexandria, where the local taxes make the cost of such intestinal treachery even higher.

I hadn’t eaten at an Arthur Treacher’s in almost 20 years. Hopefully the 48 cents in taxes on top of the indigestion I’ll be feeling the rest of the day will be enough to make me stay away at least that long and preferably the rest of my life!


Backyard Beaches

May 26, 2008

Our youngest child and her friends like to haul sand around in play trucks in our backyard to make beaches all around the sandbox. So at least once a year, I have to trek to Home Depot for a new supply of sand. Today was the day because we hosted a Memorial Day picnic.

The sand set us back $20; the taxes cost us an extra dollar.

Subway Stinks

May 25, 2008

This entry has nothing to do with taxes. I just need a place to vent.

This letter I just e-mailed to Subway — after reading blog posts by Michelle Malkin, Home Education Magazine and Citizens For Reasonable And Fair Taxes — should tell you everything you need to know:

I hear that Subway is running a story-writing contest dubbed “Every Sandwich Tells A Story” but specifically discriminating against only one category of young people in the contest — home-schoolers. With that in mind, let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, a family of five, including three home-schooled children, lived two blocks from the Subway shop downtown.

Kimberly, the doting mother and dedicated teacher of Anthony, Elli and Catie, loved to take her children on lunch breaks to Subway during the week and to grab Subway sandwiches to go when the family went on school-related field trips. The family went to the shop so often that the workers knew them as regulars and what they would order as soon as they walked through the door.

Elli in particular loved the sandwiches at Subway so much that she regularly asked to stop at franchises when the family was on the road. For her, the choice always came down to Subway or Taco Bell.

Then one day, the corporate know-nothings at Subway decided to hold a contest and invite their loyal, young customers to write sandwich stories. Elli, a budding young writer whose father, Danny, is a journalist and blogger, was a perfect candidate for the contest. There was just one problem: Subway decided that Elli wasn’t good enough for its contest because she is taught by her mother — her mother, can you believe that?!

Danny was outraged when he read the news on the blog and in Home Education Magazine. Kimberly couldn’t believe it, either. They decided right then and there to write a pointed letter to the head sandwich honchos and, if necessary, never to eat at Subway again.

Elli was OK with that because she had another favorite. And so the entire family went to Taco Bell and lived happily ever after.

Subway’s nonsensical decision to exclude home-schoolers is all the more infuriating to those of us here in Virginia, which has a large home-schooling population and a whole lot of Subways. It’s the exact opposite mindset of the local roller-skating rink, which has a dedicated skating day for home-schoolers every Friday.

I hope Subway wakes up and reverses its policy for the writing contest, but I’m more than willing to sacrifice the occasional meatball sub to make an important point.

Tax, Tax On The Range

May 24, 2008

The father-son camping trip that I mentioned a few months ago is only a couple of weeks away, so we’ve been doing some shopping this week.

The latest purchases are on top of what I spent earlier this month on clothes. Camping sure ain’t cheap, and Aunt Virginia and her siblings makes it even pricier.

The tax tab over the past two days totaled $12.31 — and there’s still more to come because I’m taking my old-fashioned SLR camera with the wide-angle lens, which means I have to buy film.

Taxing The Clothes On Our Backs

May 16, 2008

When I was a child, my mother rarely bought clothes for herself. She much preferred spending the spare money our family could budget for clothes on my three brothers and me — and sometimes Dad.

Kimberly is much the same way now. She jumps at the chance to buy clothes for our son and two daughters, and likes me to splurge when I get the urge (rarely) for a new outfit, but she doesn’t tend to shop for herself often.

This month, thankfully, she has been having fun spoiling herself, too. She works hard and I wish she’d spend more money on the clothes I know she loves.

The downside is that we have to pay more taxes. This month alone, we have spent nearly $8 in taxes just to put clothes on our backs.

And we paid a bit more for some of those clothes than we normally would have because we were on the road. The sales-tax rate in West Virginia, where I bought clothes for our camping trip next month, is 6 percent, and it’s 7 percent in neighboring Kentucky, where Kimberly finally broke down and bought herself a new outfit.

But hey, at least we’ll look good in our new outfits.

Aunt Virginia Hates Mothers

May 12, 2008

Why do I say that? Because we just made it through another Mother’s Day weekend and the sales-tax bill collected by the state of Virginia is quite hefty.

I did splurge this year by getting Kimberly the heart-shaped gold necklace with diamonds she has wanted for years, but even if all we had bought were cards, flowers and dinners for the mothers, we’d have paid a pretty penny to Aunt Virginia.

My guess is she’s a jealous, old spinster. Same for her sisters in West Virginia and Ohio, where we took the two sets of parents out to dinner over two days.

Here’s the tax punishment we endured over the weekend for celebrating our mothers:
— Dinners: $6.61
— Necklace: $4.30
— Cards: $1.70
— Flowers: $1.36

Stimulating Ideas

May 7, 2008

Our family hasn’t yet received the political boondoggle that is the federal tax rebate enacted as part of an economic stimulus plan. But other folks have, and they’re telling the world how they spent the money.

Check the list at the new blog How I Spent My Stimulus. It’s full of ideas that range from responsible and political to entertaining and downright wacky.

Somehow I don’t think this dude’s wife will be impressed with the scary likeness of her now emblazoned forever on his arm. Then again, she married the guy, so she probably knew he was capable of pulling a bizarre stunt like that one day.

A Century Of Tax Mischief

May 5, 2008

My Dad forwarded to me an e-mail that included this gem about all of the taxes conceived in the minds of politicians over the past century (the impact of several of them on just our family has been chronicled on this blog):

Accounts receivable tax
Building permit tax
CDL license tax
Cigarette tax
Corporate income tax
Dog license tax
Federal income tax
Federal unemployment tax
Fishing license tax
Food license tax
Fuel permit tax
Gasoline tax
Hunting license tax
Inheritance tax
Inventory tax
IRS interest charges (tax on top of tax)
IRS penalties (tax on top of tax)
Liquor tax
Luxury tax
Marriage license tax
Medicare tax
Property tax
Real-estate tax
Service charge taxes
Social Security tax
Road usage tax (truckers)
Sales taxes
Recreational vehicle tax
School tax
State income tax
State unemployment tax
Telephone taxes
— Federal excise
— Universal service fee
— Federal, state and local surcharges
— Minimum-usage surcharge
— Taxes on recurring and non-recurring phone charges
— State and local phone taxes
— Telephone-usage charge tax
Utility tax
Vehicle registration tax
Vehicle sales tax
Watercraft registration tax
Well permit tax
Workers compensation tax

The kicker to the e-mail: “Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, and our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids. What happened? Can you spell ‘politicians?'”

About That Gas-Tax ‘Holiday’

May 5, 2008

Proposals to give Americans a break from gasoline taxes this summer — and perhaps to offset it with a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies — are being roundly criticized by economic experts and pundits across the country. Here’s a selection for your reading pleasure:

Charlotte Observer: “This is flimflam work. The plan can only hope to provide small and limited relief. … This is still sleight-of-hand chicanery. Sen. Barack Obama … is right to oppose it. So should the rest of us. What’s needed is a president with a practical energy policy, not one who’s prone to pander.”

The Chicago Tribune: “[A] three-month break is too brief to elicit much response from refiners. They would more likely pocket the difference, leaving motorists no better off.”

Christian Science Monitor: “The tax break would add to the federal deficit. Gas-tax revenues normally go to the Highway Trust Fund, which is used to maintain and improve the highway and public transit systems.”

Dallas Morning News: “The McCain-Clinton ‘gas-tax holiday’ would be celebrated most fervently in the corporate offices of oil companies and in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and the other oil-producing nations. Your 18-cent ‘discount’? That would degrade and probably disappear faster than you could say ‘supply and demand.'”

Houston Chronicle: “What we have is a supply problem. It just seems strange to me that the people who scream the loudest about our dependence on foreign oil, Sen. Clinton and Speaker Pelosi among them, are the very ones who do everything they can to suppress production from domestic sources with repressive restrictions on offshore drilling and the building of new refineries.”

The Mercury News: “For politicians to gain any real traction, they should bring something beyond a say-anything-for-a-vote pipe dream to the table. Be bold and call for a permanent end to the federal fuel tax.”

Miami Herald: “The tax holiday — give-away, to call it by its real name — is a classic Washington palliative. It creates the illusion that the politicians are making the problem go away when, instead, they are actually making the problem worse. … [I]t does nothing to cure the underlying problem, which consists of an addiction to cheap gasoline coupled with wasteful habits like driving gas-guzzlers instead of gas-savers.”

— The Star Tribune in Minnesota: “The gas tax holiday is an empty political gesture that makes little sense. It wouldn’t put enough in consumers’ pockets to stimulate a sluggish economy. It wouldn’t solve the underlying problems that are sending gas prices soaring toward $4. And, by artificially stimulating demand, many energy experts believe it could send pump prices even higher when the gas tax kicks back in.”

Tax Policy Blog: “ExxonMobil’s recent announcement of first quarter profits of $10.9 billion has prompted the predictable political demagoguery about “obscene” profits and the need for a new windfall profits tax. … If reporters were to dig just a bit deeper into the company’s earnings statement they would find that Exxon — like all the major domestic oil companies — directly pays or remits a staggering amount of taxes to governments both here and abroad.”

The Wall Street Journal: “We tried this windfall profits scheme in 1980. It backfired. The Congressional Research Service found in a 1990 analysis that the tax reduced domestic oil production by 3 percent to 6 percent and increased oil imports from OPEC by 8 percent to 16 percent.”

Election-Year Tax Gimmicks

May 5, 2008

President Bush and the Democratic Congress already have given Americans a tax rebate touted as an economic stimulant that isn’t likely to stimulate anything. Now politicians are tripping over themselves to offer more tax gimmicks as gasoline prices rise in this election year.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was the first to propose a holiday from the federal gas tax (currently 18.4 cents a gallon) for the summer, and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has embraced a similar idea, with the twist of adding a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies to cover the lost revenue from the tax break. Barack Obama, Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, has criticized those plans but countered with a call for a middle-class tax cut.

If only we voters could get a summer holiday from this kind of pandering!

Potluck Payout

May 4, 2008

A few home-schooling friends of ours gathered this afternoon for a music recital by some of the young people. Kimberly stopped for a bucket of grease from Kentucky Fried Chicken to contribute to the potluck event — 16 pieces of chicken and $1.02 in taxes. What a country!

April Tax Bite

May 4, 2008

Social Security: $499.10
Medicare: $116.72
Federal Income: $636.88
Virginia Income: $400.14
Communications: $4.66
Utilities: $5.73
Week 14: $15.20 (partial week)
Week 15: $18.25
Week 16: $21.89
Week 17: $21.41
Week 18: $6.07 (partial week)

Total: $1,746.05
Year-to-date total: $12,607.11

The Math Skills Of Journalists

May 4, 2008

Journalists like me should never write blogs that require a good grasp of mathematical logic. When we do, we spend hours trying to compose entries that would take normal people minutes.

That’s my way of saying that some of the year-to-date numbers you’ll find on this blog are suspect. Specifically, the year-to-date numbers for entries that recap our weekly tax bite may be off.

It’s too complicated for me to try to explain why. Just trust me when I say that the most trustworthy year-to-date numbers are in the entries that calculate our monthly tax bite. No partial weeks are involved there, so I’m not as confused when I try to do the math.

I’ll keep tracking the year-to-date numbers in the weekly entries; you’ll just have to wait until the end of each month to see the more reliable numbers.

One other administrative note: I have revised the year-to-date numbers throughout this blog for two reasons: 1) I discovered some math mistakes and fixed them; and 2) I have dropped property taxes from the monthly calculations.

Our mortgage statements this year have yet to reflect any property taxes paid to the county government. I’m guessing that means our lender only pays the taxes quarterly. (See, you learn things when you blog about taxes.)

Rather than trying to estimate those taxes monthly as I had planned, I’m going to make note of them when they are paid. That will explain in part why a few of the monthly tax entries will be noticeably larger.

Get Your Taxes Out Of The Gutter

May 4, 2008

The gutter guys made their semi-annual trip to our house last month. The bill for their dirty work came in the mail a few days ago, and I was thrilled to see that no taxes are charged. We’ll pay $150 to Ned Stevens Gutter Cleaning and nothing to Aunt Virginia. Woo-hoo!

The bill confirms my speculation earlier this year that services, unlike sales, aren’t taxed — at least not in Virginia. I’m sure the bureaucrats will get around to that idea eventually, but it’s nice to know that not every penny we spend is taxed.

That’s great to know because my wife took our three kids for haircuts this week. The tab was $54.96 (including $15 for the exorbitant tips that my generous wife likes to pay). Aunt Virginia got squat!

Time For A Tax Break On Books

May 3, 2008

I probably shouldn’t ask this question because it will give some money-hungry politician an idea, but why is it that the government taxes book purchases (80 cents more added to our tax bill today) and not trips to the movie theater?

This isn’t an argument for taxing movie tickets, mind you. But it is an argument for not taxing books, particularly the educational books we use to home-school our three children. Kids need to be reading more of them and watching fewer movies. Tax law should recognize that.