May 2, 2012

Most taxes hard to decipher

SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — As I write this column, Toby and I just finished calculating our taxes at our preparer's house. It was a bad time to come home and clean out old receipts from the filing cabinet.

I started tearing up old paid bills, such as the cable, and couldn't help but notice how many taxes we pay. On just one cable bill we are charged: Federal Communications Commission administration fee, franchise fees, broadcast TV surcharge, (phone), end user common-line charge, gross receipts tax, federal Universal Service Fund, federal excise tax, regulatory cost fee, telecommunications excise tax, telephone sales tax and County 911 surcharge. Total: $18.06.

As far as I'm concerned, a fee or a surcharge is just another word for "tax." I don't mind paying sales taxes or E911 surcharges, but a franchise fee tax of $5.05? I don't own that franchise, so why should I pay a tax?

How about the cellphone bill? Clinton County, state and local sales tax, Clinton County wireless E911 surcharge, federal Universal Service Fund surcharge-wireless, New York telecommunications excise surcharge, public-safety communication surcharge and regulatory cost recovery charge. Total: $5.23.

How about the light bill? I expect to pay for electricity I use, but some of these charges are confusing: transition charge, New York state assessment, System Benefits and Renewable Portfolio Standard charge, merchant function charge and supply charge. I just don't know how our future generations are going to pay their bills.

The bottled-gas bill: hazmat fee and fuel-recovery fee. I don't deliver the fuel. Why should I have to pay a hazmat fee? Fuel recovery? For whom? Total: $17.45. I just don't know where it stops.

OK, I've got that off my chest. Now on a lighter note about taxes, there have been some rather funny ones in the past.

Way back in 1696, a window tax was aimed at the wealthy. Windows in England and Scotland were taxed. The average worker's home had only two windows. Suddenly, where there had been lots of windows in small palaces, the hole was bricked up.

More recently, there is a cow-flatulence tax in Ireland and Denmark. Slow digestion mixing with the greens they eat cause this. Slaughtering houses are one of the worst places for the buildup of gas that comes from cows. In Ireland, the tax is $18 per cow, and in Denmark, $110. Phew!

If you throw in the Russian beard tax and the British wig-powder tax, it seems like whoever is going to benefit from taxes is going to think one up, no matter what.

Some people get tired of paying income taxes and try to get away with deductions, such as the man who said he was distrustful of technology and used only carrier pigeons to communicate. It seems he had a business partner and considered it was all part of doing business, therefore, deductible. Because he has never owned a computer or had a phone, his certified public accountant got him the deduction.

A woman was told by her doctor to drink three bottles of water a day. The woman said she could drink only a high-priced water because the others made her sick. The doctor wrote a prescription for the high-priced water, and the woman deducted it on her taxes as a medical expense. Seems it worked, too.

We all love our pets, but one taxpayer considered her dog a member of the family. Therefore, she decided it was legal to deduct the dog's hip replacement. Didn't work.

As ole Ben Franklin said to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1787: "Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

Guess it's true.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at