Bizarre taxes to put our situation into perspective

We like to complain (and for good reason) about the litany of taxes imposed on us by various levels of government, but this post on Neatorama details some bizarre taxes through history that make current ones seem tame.

Peter the Great, czar of Russia, imposed a tax on souls in 1718…meaning everybody had to pay it (it’s similar to a head tax or a poll tax). Peter was antireligious (he was an avid fan of Voltaire and other secular humanist philosophers), but agreeing with him didn’t excuse anyone from paying the tax—if you didn’t believe humans had a soul, you still had to pay a “religious dissenters” tax. Peter also taxed beards, beehives, horse collars, hats, boots, basements, chimneys, food, clothing, all males, as well as birth, marriage, and even burial.

I have to admit current taxes seem much more logical, taxing income, consumption, property values, estates, gas, etc.

I, like Krupo, have very nearly said goodbye to preparing personal taxes for another year. I start a new four-week audit this week, which will keep me away from the office unless we get called in. The past couple weeks I’ve been mainly doing personal returns for our clients.

I don’t dislike preparing taxes, and I do corporate tax returns year round, which gives me a good break from audit work. But for the same reason I don’t think I’m interested in specializing in tax, even though you make more money. Tax is good, but only as a break from other stuff.


City budget indecipherable to ordinary citizens

Toronto released their budget this week and other than the usual tax hikes for property owners, this interesting post on Eye Daily about the gibberish and jargon of a city budget.

It lists the specialized terms the budget contains to describe its expenditures and revenues, and the list is incomprehensible, even to me, a soon-to-be Chartered Accountant:

  • OMBI
  • COTA
  • Net pressures
  • Revenue tools
  • Adjusted pressure
  • MPMP
  • ABCs
  • Single tier and regional CAOs
  • COLA
  • Assessment growth
  • Social service cost sharing
  • OW COA
  • EMS
  • CM & CFO
  • FY Incremental Outlook
  • Full cost recovery model

It’s a little ridiculous, no? How do they expect ordinary citizens to understand where their property taxes are going, if I can’t even decipher the above?

The link above contains comments on the original post that outline what the terms most likely mean, although no one from the City has come forward with the official definitions.


Abolish the property tax rant

Not mine, but that of historian John Steele Gordon (via Tax Foundation):

In the 18th century, real property was probably the best measure available of a person’s ability to pay taxes. That’s because it generated income from farming or things like water mills, ship yards and stores. Only the very rich had residences on town lots.

But in today’s suburban world, property is a terrible measure of a family’s ability to pay taxes. Almost all privately-owned property today is income-absorbing. And it’s also grossly unfair.

The result is that the middle class family pays a much higher proportion of its annual income in local taxes than does the zillionaire across town.

Also, property taxes are highly visible as they arrive in the mail at least twice yearly. Visibility alone is a good thing when it comes to tax because it allows those who pay it to be more aware of it, but in this case is outweighed by the fact that we’re also being reminded of how arbitrary the tax can seem most of the time.

Another negative is that property tax is unrelated to behaviour, as it depends most often on macro factors outside the taxpayer’s control.