Louisiana Taxes Are The Worst
Confession: I am not a tax guy.
In fact, I’m pretty terrible at adulting in general. I like to play video games, eat sugary cereal and watch cartoons with my kid. Filling out forms of any kind fills me with the type of dread most of us only experienced as children, whenever something fell off the top shelf of the closet in the middle of the night after we’d just watched Poltergeist.
Having lived most of my life in Texas, I've only really ever had to deal with Serious Forms once a year, when tax season rolled around. And even then, I only ever filled out the standard 1040EZ with no special exemptions because I can’t handle the impossible algebra that defines the Tax Code.
Now that I’m in Louisiana, I have to deal with federal and state income taxes, which is just too much and I’m probably going to die.
Of course, I moved here at the perfect time, because Louisiana’s ridiculous and bizarre tax code just got even more complicated. And expensive.
I’m talking, of course, about the new changes to the sales tax that appropriately went into effect on April Fools' Day, and somehow managed to knock Louisiana out of last place by digging a deep, dark hole and tossing the still-twitching corpses of the state’s taxpayers into it.
I’m not even joking. The Tax Foundation ranked Louisiana as having the worst sales tax structure in the nation. The only reason it isn’t ranked any lower than #50 is because we only have 50 states, so there's only so low we can go. But if there was a sub-level, we’d no doubt be hiding somewhere in the darkest corner of the nation’s basement, nibbling on raw crawfish for dinner like some kind of Cajun Gollum.
To try and explain things, the state released a 25 page matrix of the new sales tax rate as it applies different items, and I’m already lost because they used the word “matrix” in a non-Keanu Reeves way that wrinkles my brain.
Some of these items are weirdly specific, too. For example, you can lease or rent a crane with an operator without being taxed because that’s exempt for some reason. But Girl Scouts are taxed on every box of Thin Mints they sell, since I guess we can’t have kids getting any crazy ideas about hard work ever actually being rewarded or anything.
Water is even more confusing. Sales of water directly to a consumer for residential use are exempt, but just “sales of water” in general aren’t. Unless, of course, the water is sold in containers such as a jug, bottle, or carton - because then it’s exempt again. Just don’t turn that water into steam, or you’ll be hit with the full force of the 5% tax through 2016 for reasons. (It drops to 3% from 7/1/2016 - 6/30/2017 and then down to 1% through 2018.)
Receipts from coin-operated washing and drying machines in commercial laundromats are exempt because I don’t know why. So are “articles traded on new articles”, but probably only because nobody knows what that even means. Sales of bait and feed used in the production of crawfish and catfish are also exempt, but supplies used by commercial fishermen aren’t.
Then there are the Sales Tax Holidays, which aren’t so much holidays anymore, as they’re more like Why Do We Even Bother days.
For example, the Sales Tax Holiday that falls on the first consecutive Friday and Saturday of August gets hit with a 3% tax this year, which means those “tax-free” back-to-school clothes will only be 2% tax free. It’s kind of like the difference between Fat Free and Reduced Fat foods, I guess. It’s a Tax-Reduced day. Go crazy.
The Sales Tax Holiday the last weekend of May is also getting hit this year. And by hit, I mean totally done away with. All hurricane-preparedness items will be fully taxed at 5% in 2016, then again next year at 3%. The Grinch has cancelled Hurricane Christmas.
The last Sales Tax Holiday on the list is the one for hunters that falls during the first weekend of September. Firearms, ammunition, and hunting supplies will be taxed at 3% this year. Sorry.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, sales of antique airplanes held by private collectors and not being used for commercial purposes will be taxed at 5%, then 4%, then 1%. You know, since I guess that’s a big enough business that it needed its own specific line item.
The state’s not messing around, either. I found a copy of a letter from the Governor’s office floating around Facebook this weekend, which took the collection of the new 5% sales tax at the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival VERY seriously.
The letter stated that Department of Revenue employees would be on site to collect the state sales tax that's applied to all items sold at Louisiana Arts and Crafts Festivals. That's 5% of every vendor's gross sales, which was due between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on the last day of the festival or else...
Failure to comply and remit taxes due at the event will result in an estimated billing in the amount of $500.00 plus penalties and interest on your account.
At least this is all just for the state sales tax, so I won’t have to worry about filling out any crazy forms or anything. I just need to know how much I have to pay when I go to buy something, which leaves all the mysterious calculations to the nice person working the register. Or at least the computer they use to ring me up.