In Arizona, a man recently tried to cool his pool with a 300 lb. block of ice. You might ask why. (We don’t know.) Or you might ask if it worked. (It did not – the ice melted in 40 minutes and the pool only dropped 6 degrees). But what does a sales tax researcher ask when they read this story? Did the $100 this gentleman shelled out for forty minutes of slightly more refreshing swimming include sales tax?
Before we answer that question, we must ask: what is ice? Aside from the solid phase of water, rapidly becoming liquid in Phoenix, the Arctic, and everywhere, ice is sort of food. Or at least, that’s how it is taxed in some places. What I find most interesting about the taxation of ice is that its general demeanor and size affect its tax status. In eleven states including Arizona, ice is taxed differently in blocks than it is in cubes. The logic follows that ice in large blocks or bails is not often used as food, but for activities like sculpting, sliding down hills, or, apparently, cooling swimming pools. Ice in much smaller blocks, on the other hand, is often ingested while it is used to cool things like drinks and is therefore in another category.
Of course, one state always has to be the outlier. In this case, that state is Washington. In Washington, bags of ice cubes that weigh more than ten pounds are taxed as well as blocks of any weight. Luckily, I think the people of Washington must have a much easier go of keeping things cool than our friends in Arizona where blocks are taxed and cubes are subject to local rates.