"A bag tax, what's that?"
We were standing in line last weekend, arms overloaded with wardrobe additions, at a trendy downtown Chicago clothing store when my wife pointed out a sign next to the cash register.
I read the notice telling shoppers that, upon their purchase, they'd be taxed seven cents for every bag it would take to load up their garments.
"Man, they really do tax everything up here," I responded.
Maybe it's my libertarian ideological slant, but I dedicate quite a bit of brainspace to taxation ruminations. It's not an enviable condition, I promise.
So naturally, given the fact that most Hamilton County property owners just learned their tax bills will soon be notching northward, I've recently been thinking more on the topic than is normal.
And now, dear reader, I can confidently report to you that Chicago is no place to visit should you be seeking refuge from tax brooding.
One minute I was in the cheap seats at Wrigley Field, covered in peanut shells cheering my beloved Cubs to victory. The next minute (it seemed), I was pondering the many ways — even on shopping bags — our friends in government extract money from us.
The following morning I picked up a copy of the Tribune and, guess what, it was jam-packed with tax talk.
Apparently, Chicagoans are in the midst of fighting over two new drink tolls. One is a Michael Bloomberg-backed initiative to hike taxes on sugary drinks by a penny-an-ounce, and the other is an 11-cents-an-ounce levy on "potent" libations, categorized as alcoholic drinks 40 proof and up.
I don't know how they felt about their shopping bag tax when it passed, but from what I could tell while reading the Sunday edition of the paper, few in the Windy City want their diet sodas or whiskey drinks taxed more than they are currently.
After finishing my copy of the Tribune while waiting on our flight out of O'Hare, I opened my laptop to scan Times Free Press headlines.
If you read the paper last Sunday, then you know my tax-weary eyes were met by the kickoff of a two-day, six-part "The Costs of Jobs" series, a collaborative project by Tennessee's four major newspapers investigating the somewhat hazy return on investment delivered by the generous tax incentives awarded by the state and local governments to major employers.
These business lures go by many names. Depending on who's talking, they're referred to as anything from corporate welfare "handouts" to economic development "investments."
But whatever you call them, Tennessee newspapers did residents a favor by examining the impact brought by some of these sweetheart deals — tax breaks totaling more than $2.5 billion annually.
Tennessee, of course, isn't remotely close to Illinois fiscally (thank heavens). Yet, as Average Joes here are being asked to contribute more of their hard-earned paychecks to public coffers, it's important that we examine more deeply the true value of corporate tax favors.
It's reasonable that we, as citizens, demand transparency from employers enjoying those deals. After all, $2.5 billion could pave a lot of roads, pay a lot of teacher salaries, and cover many health care costs.
No one is about to tell Volkswagen or Amazon or any other legitimate job-maker to hit the road. We're glad they're here, and we hope they stay for a very long time. However, individual taxpayers do deserve a detailed understanding of what benefits are being returned by any entity that has achieved a preferable tax status.
Because it's only fair that we're given a clear picture of whether the originally pitched win-win deals are living up to their billing.
Contact David Allen Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.