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Sales Tax Secrets: The Mythic Origins of Tax Rules

  • Jun 4, 2013 | Christina Lengyel

“What’s another strange tax exemption?” I asked my coworker today.
“I’m pretty sure New York exempts Tang because it went to the moon,” she responds with a twinkle in her eye.
“Oh my goodness, that’s amazing.”
And so I began to consider the mythologizing of sales tax laws.

I know that Tang is singled out in sales tax, but the thought process behind this decision is more elusive. The astronaut idea may seem plausible, but it comes from the same place as the idea that eating pop rocks and drinking soda at the same time will kill you. It’s not that sales tax laws are as absurd as urban legends, it’s just that their origins may seem as impenetrable. At least when you hear some terrible story about a bad babysitter, a dog, and a microwave you can see where things are going. Sales tax, on the other hand, is a bit less predictable.

Is Tang in fact exempt in New York because it’s the drink of astronauts? I have yet to find any source confirming that idea, but isn’t it fun to make up tax myths? Just think, formalwear could be taxed in Pennsylvania because at one point, Lex Luthor thought it might be a viable way to catch Superman in the act of buying a cape. Maybe Delaware went without sales tax because John Dickinson’s ghost demanded it be so. It’s the least the state could do to remember our nation’s founders.

Some of the laws actually come with pretty solid, or at least understandable, built in lines of reasoning. Here’s a list New York provides for foods and beverages, and plenty of them make effortless sense. For the ones that don’t, sip some Avalara orange tang and daydream about the moon landing while someone else handles it.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Sales tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Avalara Author
Christina Lengyel
Avalara Author Christina Lengyel
Christina Lengyel is a writer by trade and has found herself in taxes by way of research. As an analyst, she has tracked down thousands of products by UPC in order to determine when and where they are taxed.