In tough economy, it’s time for the perfect tax

Coda


I was in the convenience store this week, listening to smokers gripe about the new 62- cent per-pack tax the federal government has imposed on cigarettes.

 

That means the feds now get $1.01 per package of smokes, or $10.10 per carton. In New Jersey, where they add on $2.57 in state tax and where the state regulates the minimum that can be charged, that pack of Marlboros will cost you about $7.98, if my math is correct.

"It could be worse," one guy pointed out, "I spent almost ten bucks for a pack yesterday in New York City."

That’s because smokers there are not only being dinged by the feds, they’re taxed $1.50 per pack by the state and $1.50 per pack by the city. The governments, of course, argue that they’re only imposing such high taxes to convince smokers to quit, but that has never been true. The fact is that the governments count on that money from smokers to help fill their coffers, and they really don’t want anybody to quit because then they wouldn’t collect the moolah.

And they don’t want smokers feeding their habits anywhere but the local bodega. In New York, they’re even thinking about creating a law that would make it illegal to purchase cigarettes on the Internet because too many smokers are trying to get a deal online without paying those high state taxes.

This is all well and good, and doesn’t affect me one way or the other, since I quit smoking when cigarettes were still about a buck a pack. But this revenue stream won’t last forever. Not as many young people smoke these days, and lots of people have quit. And many of those who haven’t quit are getting old, if their addiction hasn’t killed them yet. Most of the people interviewed for a CNN story on this new cigarette tax were between 60 and 83 years of age, and remembered when ciggies were 25 cents a pack. You’ve got to figure that their cigarette-taxrevenue potential is limited, even in the best of all possible worlds.

Nope, what these governments need is the perfect tax, a tax that will generate income forever. They need to find a tax that nearly everybody will pay, sooner or later.

I think it’s time they started taxing sex.

I’ve brought this idea up before, but I was joking then. Now, I’m completely serious. Think about it. If the government could somehow outfit each of us with some electronic gizmo that would note every time we have sex and transmit that information to the Internal Revenue Service or a newly created agency, they could charge a flat fee per interlude, say a buck a pop. We’re talking billions in additional revenue here, people.

There are lots of reasons that this is just about the most perfect tax ever conceived. It would be the only truly egalitarian tax, in that it would favor no race, gender or class. It would be the only truly fair tax, because only the users would pay.

The very young wouldn’t pay those taxes, nor would the very old, unless they’re lucky. You might think that certain members of the clergy would escape the tax, but as we’ve learned in the last couple of decades, most of the clergy gets busy as often as everyone else, and some more often.

The brunt of the burden would be borne by young adults, but they probably wouldn’t complain. And the middle class would get a break, for the first time in recorded history. That’s because those middle classers still fortunate enough to have jobs are so tired from doing the extra work of people who have been laid off, they’re too tired to have much sex anyway.

And the best part of this notion is that politicians would have to pay as much as anyone else, and we know how naughty politicians can be. Heck, with a sex tax in place, Eliot Spitzer would probably bring in a couple grand a year, all by himself. Throw in the other elected horn dogs, and you’ve got enough to buy a new battleship in no time — or offer free college educations.

Political campaigns would certainly be a whole lot more interesting, as candidates challenge each other to go public with their sex tax returns. Come on, admit it. Haven’t you ever wondered about Nancy Pelosi? I know I have.

And I’ve also wondered about John Boehner, the U.S. congressman from Ohio who’s on television all the time dumping on Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan. That guy was obviously a student in the George Hamilton school of tanning, and his skin looks weirdly orange. You’ve got to wonder whether all that time in the tanning booth pays off, and a sex tax would put the question to rest, as long as he went public with his returns. Even with the prematurely orange complexion, however, I’m betting he wouldn’t bring in as much as New Jersey’s own Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who has a reputation as a man about town.

I don’t think we can count on Joe Lieberman for much, though. He’s so boring I don’t think any partner can stay awake long enough to generate much revenue.

And we haven’t even factored in all the new revenue that would pour in from those employed in the sports and entertainment industries. With a sex tax in place, the government would finally get most of Derek Jeter’s $12 million-a-year salary, and most of Tony Romo’s $12 million a year as well.

The entertainment industry would be the proverbial cash cow. David Duchovny, who checked into a rehab clinic last year to get treatment for his sex addiction, wouldn’t have enough left after taxes to buy a hot dog, let alone impress girls who aren’t his wife with his cool car and dinners out at the Chateau Marmont. And while Mick Jagger is undoubtedly slowing down on account of his advanced age, he’d still probably generate enough sex tax revenue to buy theAir Force a couple of new hammers, if they’re still paying $500 apiece for them. George Clooney, naturally, would be in a class by himself, generating enough sex tax revenue to finance the next moon landing.

Have I convinced you yet? I know I’m happy. I’m glowing, in fact. I’m so satisfied with myself that if I still smoked, I’d probably want a cigarette.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.