Tax Gave New Meaning to Long Distance

     Paying taxes is one of the least enjoyable things in life. But all taxes arent equal. Some fund pork or programs the government has no business being involved with. Others genuinely provide for the common defense and help support our troops, especially in times of war. This close to Memorial Day, it would seem like a slap in the face to the millions who have fought to defend us to oppose paying those bills.

     Thankfully, wars end, and so sometimes do the taxes used to support them. The Treasury Department just announced it was going to set aside one such tax and even give us a reimbursement for the excess amount collected in the last three years. This one was a luxury tax on long distance phone service. Its going away because the tax was raised to help pay for a war now long over.

     That makes sense. The first Gulf War began and ended in 1991 and wait a second. The tax wasnt for that war. OK, well Vietnam was more than 30 years ago and it makes sense that the tax end now.

     Only it wasnt a tax to pay for Vietnam. Not Korea, World War II or even World War I.

     Thats right. Our Treasury Department finally agreed to end a tax that was first instituted in 1898 to fund the Spanish American War.

     Imagine that. In a year when the battleship Maine exploded, when Teddy Roosevelt was charging his way up San Juan Hill and when Admiral George Dewey was steaming into Manila Bay, this tax was sneaking its way into our lives. One hundred and eight years ago. Its a war thats too often forgotten, so its only fair that the tax to pay for it was just as forgotten. (Of course, no one forgot to collect it.)

     Ronald Reagan once said the closest thing to immortality was a government program. Politicians gave birth to this temporary tax before Reagan was born and it outlasted even the long-lived 40th president.

     It was a story so ludicrous that even some in the media dusted off their history books and told the story of what government can really be like. Maybe the fact that we only got a three-year reimbursement for a 108-year-old tax had something to do with it.

     NBCs Today program didnt just focus on how crazy this tax was. Reporter Tom Costello told viewers on May 29 that you also could pay taxes getting makeup done or buying fruit in a vending machine. In Kentucky they tax sex. Horse sex, actually. A $500,000 thoroughbred stud fee means a $30,000 tax, he added.

     Costello also claimed There's always been a love-hate relationship between politicians and taxes. They love them, we hate them.

     Thats where he dropped his history textbook and picked up a copy of Spin magazine. You and I might hate paying ridiculous taxes, but the media love taxes.

     Where was Costellos tax-hating attitude when journalists were talking recently about a windfall profits tax or higher gas taxes? They were firmly in the big-government, big-tax camp where they havent just pitched a tent, theyve built condos.

     When Congress recently OKd $70 billion in tax relief, the media treated it like rich folks had struck oil. Reporters had the audacity to bemoan a cost to government. ABCs Good Morning America team gave $20 bills to shoppers at a New Jersey mall to show how little that cut would help some people. What the news reports buried under mountains of such subtlety was that the plan saved 15 million middle class families from being included in the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax.

     At least NBC went to an expert in its story on the end of the Spanish-American War tax. They brought in John Berthoud, head of the National Taxpayers Union and a member of the Business & Media Institutes advisory board. Berthoud put it succinctly, saying, Politicians are going to tax you when you walk, when you drive, when you go to work, when you paint.

     In short, government will tax us until we scream and then throw in a scream tax on top of that. But despite the best, or worst, efforts of politicians and the media, sometimes taxes can go away. Even if it takes 108 years.

     In keeping with the Spanish-American War theme, perhaps taxpayers should adapt a rallying cry from that era: Remember the Maine phone tax. It was a victory 108 years in the making.

Dan Gainor is a career journalist and The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow. He is also director of the Media Research Centers Business Media Institute