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Sliced bagel tax? Travelers, beware America's strangest taxes

April 11, 2013 at 8:46 AM ET

Sliced and toasted bagel
Atlantide Phototravel / Corbis

Although taxes are one of life’s certainties, they can still surprise you.

Consider the iconic New York bagel: decide to have yours toasted, and it’ll come with a tax. The rationale is that sliced bagels are usually consumed on a café or store’s premises—and restaurant meals are taxed, whereas groceries (like a dozen unsliced bagels) are not.

State governments can be remarkably efficient when it comes to finding creative ways to pick up extra cash, and some of their esoteric taxes affect tourists as well as residents. Whether it’s a tax on a hot-air balloon ride over the plains of Kansas or a lid for a coffee cup sold in Colorado, these strange fees won’t inflict serious damage on your wallet. But they will make you say, “Huh?”

See more of America's strangest taxes

Of course, the United States doesn’t have the monopoly on questionable tax laws. England and Russia once both levied beard taxes, and until 1997 German companies were permitted to write off bribes. Even cow flatulence isn’t safe: in the European Union, farmers pay between $18 and $110 per cow to help offset the methane gas each animal produces, despite the fervent protests of livestock groups.

Pennsylvania has an air tax of its own—for the use of coin-operated vacuum vending machines found at car washes. It’s enough to bring to mind the Beatles song “Taxman”: “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.”

Find out what other taxes we uncovered from coast to coast. While at times befuddling and nitpicky, these taxes also remind us that each state is its own quirky destination, and the revenues should help keep them that way.

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