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Tax watch  Taxes across the nation

March 30, 2000 -- Because the federal income tax is the biggest and usually the first tax we see listed on our pay stubs, we naturally tend to focus on it.

But state government takes a bite out of our spending money, too. Bankrate will help you stay on top of what your localities are collecting -- income, sales, personal property or investment taxes, or often a combination of all.

Here's a look at some recent tax actions across the nation.

Pennsylvania lawmaker calls for state gas tax relief
HARRISBURG -- Pennsylvania State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola wants to temporarily suspend the state's liquid fuels tax to ease gasoline pump prices.

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Piccola is readying the "Liquid Fuels Tax Suspension Act," which would halt the state's 11.5-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel beginning July 1 for four to six months. The senator estimates the bill could cost the state approximately $300 million to $350 million. To make up that loss, Piccola suggests postponing a one-time property tax rebate to the state's 3.3 million homeowners. The rebate program, already approved by the Pennsylvania House, is expected to cost $330 million.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge says he would not support the fuel tax suspension plan.

Cut in federal gas tax could hurt New Mexico
SANTA FE -- The New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department is urging the state's Congressional delegation to oppose efforts to cut the federal gasoline tax, saying it would imperil critical state transportation projects.

The Land of Enchantment could be out as much as $60 million if the 4.3-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax is reduced, New Mexico highway officials say, and the loss could affect projects in 15 counties throughout the state.

Richard Montoya, director of the state's Transportation Planning Division, says if federal money is decreased, the state will try to go through the normal planning process -- including public hearings -- to determine what projects to delay or trim. But he says if federal cuts are passed on immediately, state highway officials may be forced to make the choices on their own.

The highway department report lists projects in Bernalillo, Chaves, Cibola, Curry, Doņa Ana, Eddy, Guadalupe, Lea, McKinley, Mora, Quay, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Sierra counties as those that could suffer if federal gas tax money is lost.

Over-the-counter treatments in Texas become less painful
AUSTIN -- Beginning April 1, treating headaches -- and other ailments -- won't be such a pain in the pocketbook. That's because state sales tax no longer will be collected on most over-the-counter drugs.

The Texas Comptroller's Office says all medicines that have a National Drug Code number and are "a drug or a medicine intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease or suffering" are exempt from sales tax. While the law is intended primarily for medicines for humans, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander says animal flea repellents and de-wormers also are exempt if prescribed by a veterinarian.

State officials say the sales tax exemption should save Texas families about $160 million in state and local sales taxes during 2001, its first full year of implementation. About 100,000 products -- ranging from allergy medications and antacids to sunburn treatments and wound care products -- will qualify for the exemption.

Texas law already exempts braces, crutches, wheelchairs, hearing aids and their batteries, and hypodermic needles and syringes. For a more detailed list of medical product categories now exempt, call the Comptroller's toll-free help line at 1-800-252-5555 or go to the Texas Comptroller's Web site.

Wyoming legislature adjourns, taxes enacted
CHEYENNE -- Wyoming's 4 percent state sales and use tax is now permanent, bringing to an end the 2000 session of the state legislature.

The tax had been 3 percent with a temporary addition of 1 percentage point due to expire in 2002. Gov. Jim Geringer signed the bill making the increase permanent on March 10.

Other tax measures also making it into law were:

  • Exemption of home-delivered water from sales tax.
  • Continuation of a 2-cent tax on fuels.
  • Imposition of several transportation-related taxes, including an excise tax on the commercial transport of coal within the state, a 7-cent-per-mile tax on railroads in the state and a sales tax on locomotive and railcar repairs.

Cruising for a new tourist tax in Florida
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida lawmakers say a tax on cruise ship passengers is OK by them as long as county voters who would have to pay it approve.

The Florida Marlins baseball club wants a $4-per-person tax on the estimated 3 million passengers expected to take pleasure cruises from the Port of Miami this year alone. The money would help the club build a new ballpark along the Miami waterfront. Marlins officials estimate the tax would raise $320 million toward the club's planned 2003 opening of a $400 million stadium with a retractable dome, 38,000 seats and a view of Biscayne Bay.

Legislation filed in the state senate, the Port Area Improvement Authority Act, would create an independent seven-member authority to implement the cruise tax, but only if approved by locally affected voters in a countywide referendum in November. Cruise ships currently depart from the Port of Miami, Port Everglades, Port Canaveral and the Port of Tampa.

The bill specifies that the passenger tax could be levied only in a county with a population of 1.5 million or more according to the latest census estimates and only where at least 900,000 people took multi-day cruises during the past year. The Miami port right now is the only one that meets both requirements, but Port Everglades in Broward County, just north of Miami-Dade, is fast approaching 1.5 million residents.

The Marlins have brought in former major league players to lobby for the bill. But the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association doesn't plan to make it easy sailing for the tax.

The association, representing the 15 cruise lines that operate in the state, calls the proposal a predatory tax that creates a new level of bureaucracy. The cruise industry warns the tax is likely to drive ships from Miami to other ports, jeopardizing the $1.3 billion the leisure business pumps into the Miami-Dade economy and the 6,000-plus cruise-related jobs.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has not taken a position on the issue, but he has opposed in the past the use of tax money to aid privately owned sports teams. He previously vetoed spending state money to help Vero Beach keep the Los Angeles Dodgers as spring training tenants.

-- Updated March 30, 2000

 

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