What undesirable items or activities should we tax?

Local governments need money. Meanwhile items are sold locally that are a burden on the public and cost citizens money. Likewise for bad practices. One solution to balance these things out is to tax the undesirable activities and products, both to discourage them and to provide funds to help offset their costs to the community.

Here are some suggestions to get the list started:

1) Restaurants that serve disposable paper & plastic products (no dishwasher)

2) Bottled water.

3) Disposable cameras

4) Electric billboards

5) Night lights for private property owners

6) Mobile billboards

7) New wells in OWASA or Hillsborough service area

8) Property owners that do not allow evening parking in empty lots.

What else belongs on the list?



I use them sometimes. especially when the baby finally falls asleep in the car, but I woukd gladly pay a surcharge for the convenience.

If it costs more to buy food at the Chapel Hill McDonalds or Wendies or other fastfood places, wont we just be sending our residents to purchase those from the McDonalds or Wendies or Bojangles or Taco Bell  out towards the old south square mall area.  Google maps says the two McDonalds that I have in mind are only 4 miles a part.I also wonder how this tax is implemented.  Does it result in a different price depending on whether you eat in, or do drive through, and what does that do to consumers.  And if there is a different price, is it cheaper to go to the fast food place your husband/wife/bf/gf/friend/kid/whoever waiting in the car, leaving it on with the heat running, than it is to do the drive-through? And I don't the answer to the question that I am about to ask.  But what groups of people use drive-throughs the most?  vs who can afford to eat at proper restaurants that have no drive-throughs.  And what would the impact be on those groups?

I don't think we would be sending peopel to "rival" fast food joints, becasue the whole point of drive-throughs is convenience.  I don't drive out of the way to get to one, I pick one that is on my way.Plus the tax would only be a few cents and would also serve as a disincentive to eating junk.  I also love Mia Burroughs' suggestion (below) about taxing sodas. They shouldn't be cheaper than juice!

They send loads of grease and fat down into the sewer system which causes blockages - I guess kind of like in our blood vessels.Maybe there should be a grease tax or permit that needs to be purchased.

Not so "lesser known" at Wendy's in Carrboro--they caused a big nasty sewer overflow recently, I think.Grease dumping also seems to be a huge waste of bio-diesel.

"[Sodas] shouldn't be cheaper than juice!"Why?

Because subsidies have made high fructose corn syrup cheaper than sugar, so that nasty nasty stuff is in EVERYTHING.  It's sad something so unhealthy is cheaper than juice (which also often has HFCS, but I'm assuming Ruby buys healthy juice for her kid and meant REAL fruit juice, not Juicy Juice).  I think that's what was meant.  That's how I took it anyway.

I'd certainly agree that it would be nice if juice were less expensive than soda. That said, even the removal of foolish corn subsidies (something I would support wholeheartedly) likely wouldn't make much of a dent in the reality that soda could be produced much more cheaply than juice.

clothes driers

grass lawns

political signs

cell phones

fences, where theres no livestock

cans of motor oil should include a deposit to be refunded when the used oil is turned in to recycling

asphalt roofing

stores that sell single beers "to go"


usage of the phrase "nanny state"

"political signs"Do we want to disincentivize political particpation and interest any more than it already is?

Taxing clothes driers privileges people who can buy single-family dwellings with yards where they can dry clothes. Pretty regressive.

Taxing clothes driers privileges people who can buy single-family
dwellings with yards where they can dry clothes. Pretty regressive.


  1. Clotheslines are common behind apartments.
  2. My experience was that I never owned a dryer until I bought a single-family
    dwellings with yard. Yours?
  3. I now hang-dry my clothes indoors.


"8) Property owners that do not allow evening parking in empty lots."There has to be some extra wear & tear that goes with more use.  Would their be any compensation for that.  Or would the business owners just to need balance wear & tear vs fine/tax for no evening use and go with whichever is cheaper? That said, I really like this idea, because while there might be some amount of wear and tear, unused but desired parking is definitely seems like a wasted resource.

We should not charge parking lot owners for refusing to provide free access to their parking.  They are rationally trying to reduce additional wear and tear on their property.  If anything, we should encourage parking lot owners to find ways to charge users to park in their unused spaces at night.  But most importantly, we should stop subsidizing parking through minimum parking requirements whenever we construct a building. If everyone had to pay for parking when they parked then there would be fewer incentives to oversupply often unused and parking.  As UCLA professor Donald Shoup points out, in 2002 the national subsidy for off-street parking in the US was somewhere between $127 and $374 billion.  For the same year, the national defense budget was approximately $349 billion.If we want to be serious about fighting climate change, then we need to be serious about replacing the idea that parking should be free and unlimited at all times with a paradigm that promotes having a reasonable but finite amount of parking, priced correctly and variably so that the spaces are usually 85% full and 15% vacant, at all times.

We live in suburbia here in Orange County, cars are necessary. If we want Franklin Street to have viable businesses that attract people from Durham, Hillsborough, etc. to shop there, we need more free parking. If CH had less, I'd go to CH less to shop or eat.   

Having disposable cameras at each table at my wedding reception in Chapel Hill earlier this year made for an awesome addition and segment of the wedding reception pics of situations that would not have been captured otherwise.http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/photo.php?pid=39247066&id=11813503 I almost exclusively use a digital camera, but for that one time when money was really tight and every penny was being pinched, to take on the extra cost on the tax of 50 (I don't know if that # is right) disposable cameras.Again I'm not disagreeing with any of these ideas, I'm just trying to play devil's advocate.  ( tonight's lecture topic in my Organizational Behavior class was on group think & ways to avoid it, and practicing being the devil's advocate was one way, so I'm practicing =p )


Leaf blowers are tools of Satan, and so I'd like them taxed out of existence...

I would be behind a tax both on purchase and on each use of these ridiculous, annoying things.

I look at leaf blowers this way. I save more gas carpooling to work in my hybrid in one day than the gas I use in my leaf blower in one year. It's kind of like cap and trade. I'd be happy for you to come over and rake my really long driveway I can't do it because of my back and age. I can do it with a leaf blower.  

Leaf blowers are a great example of why this is such a tough topic to discuss. You live in Meadowmont, i.e., no big trees in your yard. I live in an older (more affordable) home with a yard full of large trees. Last Tuesday I paid someone to blow off my roof. By Saturday, it needed to be done again. Raking up leaves? It would take me until spring each year. What is an irritant to you is one of the most useful tools I own.If it were up to me, I'd assign an additional tax to SUVs and trucks. 

I'm not really serious about taxing them out of existence. The noise is irritating though. We can land a man on the moon, but we can't make a quieter leaf blower? What happened to American ingenuity? And anyhow, just cut down those trees! Or let the leaves sit there -- I hear they're biodegradable. :)And like you said, there aren't huge trees in the populated areas of Meadowmont, so why can't some people just use rakes?Anyhow, you're right, this topic is challenging. Some people need SUVs or trucks. (Well, maybe not SUVs. But definitely trucks.)

...there were men blowing leaves in the rain.  I kid you not.  My tuition money, well spent.

Some jurisdictions use take-back legislation to reduce impacts by requiring manufacturers and/or remanufacturers to take back things like appliances and consumer electronics. Here's a short overview of UNC Kenan-Flagler research analyzing the effectiveness and impact of this kind of policy: http://bit.ly/5IbkIL. Does the County or any of the local municipalities have this kind of policy in place? If not, do you think we should enact such a thing in these parts?

How about taxing people for usage of services instead of sending real estate taxes through the roof. If your children are in school you pay a little more. If you are a new resident, you pay the true marginal cost of providing additional new services instead of charging the existing population for what new residents create. Increase impact fees (ie we had to build a new 20million school because of new population but your impact fee doesn't pay enough) and institute a transfer tax (again let's have the people that create new costs pay more for the new costs they create) . Take a good hard look at a sales tax increase. Create more but well managed and planned commercial tax base.Local tax credits for energy savings (ie hybrid cars, solar etc.). Charge more local tax for gas guzzlers. Let's spread the burden out. 

Not that making dough is particularly undesirable (I'm a newspaper editor so I don't know much about it), but I still think instituting a modest county income tax with a significant roll back of property tax is still the fairest way to deal with the revenue issue.Trying to fix the people getting taxes out of their homes problem by growing the commercial sector seems like an almost impossible struggle.Here's the link to the edit I wrote on it a few months back: Ready to consider a county income tax?

Is there a community similar to Chapel Hill/Carrboro that has had success lowering taxes by increased commercial activity? Surely the Chamber or some of the pro-development candidates could point you toward an example or a study that backs up their proposed strategies.

Info from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on "soda" tax benefits:Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes
and Public Health
Brief Provides the Latest Data About the Potential Effects of
Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes on Consumer Behavior and Health

As states and localities struggle with the dual problems of rising
obesity rates and budget shortfalls, many are considering taxing
sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)—including sodas, sports drinks,
sweetened tea, fruit drinks and punches, and other beverages—to
generate revenue, reduce consumption of unhealthy beverages and address
the nation’s obesity epidemic. As these taxes are discussed on the
local, state and federal levels, it is important for researchers and
policy-makers to have the best available evidence on the taxes’
potential impact on both public health and revenue.
This research brief by Bridging the Gap and Healthy
Eating Research examines the latest information on SSBs and
concludes that taxes that result in substantially higher SSB prices
could be a potent policy tool for curbing obesity rates by leading
people to reduce consumption.
Other key findings include:

  • An increase in SSB consumption is associated with increases
    in caloric intake, weight gain, obesity and a variety of other negative
    health consequences among children, teens and adults.
  • The potential of significant SSB taxes to reduce obesity
    rates is supported by a number of studies showing that soft drink
    consumption falls when soft drink prices rise.
  • Several studies have estimated that a 10 percent increase
    in the price of SSBs could reduce consumption by 8 percent to 11

the research brief.

Plastic bags.

Plastic bags

I'll second that!

The use by commercial lawn/landscape services of gas powered weed wackers, blowers, edgers, and mowers is a huge pollution and noise nuisance. Make these services pay for the privelege of polluting the atmosphere with gas fumes and noise for profit. Give a cost incentive to those using electric equipment or manual labor (where possible). There is a small move to "green" landscape services but it needs help.

The gas equipment pollutes at a rate far in excess of motor vehicles and virtually any other gas burning device you can name. The small engines are inefficient and horribly polluting. Smell the gas and the fumes anywhere near a gas blower and you know that the efficiency of combustion must be very low. (What about the health effects on the person weilding one of these things for hours every day!) These companies use this equipment to excess and in order to meet contract obligations they blow/mow and weed whack rain or shine, whether its needed or not. Individuals too contribute to this burden on our environment in the name of "convenience" but the commerical landscape and maintanence services are the bulk of it.

This is an area of "low hanging fruit" that should be addressed to make a real contribution to our local quality of life and health. The manufacturer's of these poison spewing machines should also be taxed for their privelege to pollute for profit.

How about we put a tax on overreaching, moralistic legislative activity?  Every public official who can't keep his or her nose out of the people's business is subject to a yearly public nuisance fee.

Sure, because nothing mentioned here involves anything that has an impact on your and other people's lives, families, environment, or well-being, right?

OK, but for that to be valid, you need evidence of that "impact".  We can sit here and say plastic bags or cell phones or electronic billboards are "bad", but there's no metric.  There's no factual evidence that my use of plastic bags hurts anyone.  There should be a demonstrable, observable harm to another person before any of these activities are subject to taxation or any other form of government control.

There certainly is already demonstrable, observable harm with plastic bags.  As for cell phones or billboards, how much tax money do you want to spend doing studies of things like distracted driving, etc., especially when common sense tells you a lot already?  And I don't even want to get into the pitfalls of looking for metrics of flame-height while a city block is burning down.  In any case, you should probably pay closer attention to differentiating between what is a tongue-in-cheek wishlist of disagreeable things and those things seriously proposed as societally detrimental and in actual need of deterrence because the you're-not-the-boss-of-me mentality has overthrown responsible self-regulation. 


you can make a huge list of things that impact society that one person may like that another doesn't and vice versa. Who decides what is a detrimental impact and what isn't??? Children certainly use up resources. Should we tax having children? The more children, the more taxes. Let's make it a geometric tax, just for the heck of it! No one has to eat at restaurants. It is a luxury. Should we tax restaurants and patrons? The more expensive the restaurant, the higher the tax. Think of how many people drive to restaurants each day. Think of the carbon footprint of the trucks who deliver products to these restaurants! Alcohol is a poison, really. It is not necessary to drink it. It is already taxed, but let's tax is more. Let's tax it so much that there won't be any wine to have with cheese as you sit and watch Shakespeare in the Park or whatever. As a matter of fact, candy is unnecessary. Let's tax it too. That way, people will only eat stuff that is good for 'em. A little social engineering is good for people. Why, let's make it a lot of social engineering! Shoes - we really only need one or two pairs. Why do many women (and some men) have 30 pairs of shoes? I think it's silly. Let's tax more than two pairs of shoes. It's a waste of resources. In fact, we really only need a few outfits. Let's tax clothes much more than we do now. Someone can come in your house and check,  and if you have more than 7 outfits per person, you get taxed extra. Why? You really don't need those extra clothes, and a lot of resources go into making those clothes you don't need.  Ya see, we could go on forever. I like this idea better - you mind your own business and I'll mind mine. Guess what? You AREN'T the boss of me and many people are tired of other people telling them how to live their lives...

Reasonable, intelligent adults. That's why sewage doesn't run in the streets anymore.

And you, of course, decide who is intelligent and reasonable, right? lol...I didn't realize that everything was so cut and dry. Heck, why even debate things? I guess everyone who doesn't want to tax disposable cameras is a dolt then...I like plastic bags. I guess my IQ just dropped again. Wait...I love firearms. Now I'm drooling. Hold on, hold on - I like leaf blowers, cell phones, fast cars with big engines, an occasional cigarette, alcohol. Why, you are right! I'm practically comatose with idiocy! How do I get around in this here world??? Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that I would take on such a self-proclaimed intellectual heavyweight as yourself, Mark. How dare I take to task a man who thinks that private property owners who own parking lots should be taxed if they don't want people parking in their lots! Imagine the audacity!!! In fact, they should open their homes so you can eat their food as well. They should be happy to entertain such a glorious mind as yours! wow...the arrogance....   

Your logic is all over the place - everyone IS a child at one time or another; restaurants, clothing, and shoes ARE taxed; alcohol DOES hurt both drinkers and those affected by drunks; and so on.  It's just asking for someone to step in as the boss of another's behavior if there's negative impact  felt beyond the tip of his nose, his fist, and the door of his house -- at that point your business is mine and vice versa, as most people eventually figure out when they grow out of worrying about being told what to do and manage to behave responsibly on their own. And the person who wants to continue behaving that way doesn't get to be also the decider of whether the impact is negative or not, as anyone whose ever dealt with a bully knows: "Aw, I didn't hurt you that much; it's just a scratch."As far as punitive taxation is concerned, I'm frankly sick of being drastically overtaxed on income, as a member of the middleclass, because the wealthy not-the-boss-of-us citizens and corporations don't pay even a quarter of what they once did proportionately, and some pay nothing.  Apparently I'm not the boss of them, either, even though I am a taxpayer and citizen.  My only power/recourse is to vote, but they are effectively the boss of my income, taxes, and retirement because their lobbying dollars outshout my vote beyond all reason. Now THAT's a nuisance.You are certainly welcome to live your own life, but unless you are a hermit off the grid, you are a member of the community, town, county, state, country, and planet. If you can boss yourself well enough not to run anyone down when you drink or pile up huge long-term medical bills for yourself and those around you if you smoke (all paid for, I might add, by the premiums others pay to your insurers), well - hey - knock yourself out.  For my part, I propose a nuisance tax of 3 mini-marshmallows on those whose political style means baiting, debating, and departing having awarded themselves a star for minding their own business.  Peace.  ;-)

Wrong  - my logic is flawless. It is perfect. Read a little deeper. What I am saying is that I think extra shoes and clothes are useless, so in my world they would be taxed extra. Of course, I am being ridiculous and would never levy such a tax because who am I to say what is useless, just like who are you to say that cigarettes are useless if I want to smoke them. I pay for electricity, garbage pickup, roads, defense, and my own health care, by the way etc...  Who are you to determine what is important/unimportant and taxable beyond that? Pretty arrogant, I must say. By the way, I'm not wealthy at all. I almost guarantee I make less than you do. Which, by the way, is partly why I want you to mind your own business. The other reason is that this is, I think, a free country (last time I checked...) If you don't like plastic bags, then don't use them. Great. I have no problem with that. If you don't like leafblowers, don't get one. I store my leafblower right next to my power washer and my chain saw (which is right next to the garbage in which I throw my plastic bags...) By the way, I was being sarcastic about alcohol. That's why I brought up banning wine, because most arrogant liberals love to pontificate about wine ...ah nevermind. It's sad to see that nothing has really changed on this board - there are some bright points of light, but mostly it still is a bunch of people that insist on telling other people how to live, what to think, how to speak, who to love and who to hate, etc...It is refreshing to live in a town now where people are too busy working and living to worry about trivial things like other people owning disposable cameras, etc... I very much like the government where I live. They worry about picking up the garbage, maintaining the roads, and then they shut their pie-holes, like they should, and let people live their lives.  I fine you 4 mini-marshmallows for not understanding my post and for making me irritated enough to waste time on this board.Peace.   ;-0 dave 

In view of your complaints, it's impossible not to remind you that you don't HAVE to be here, especially given the degenerated tone and quality of your latest posts.  (And just for the record, no, you do not pay for all of your own health care, even if you're going without insurance.) 

that I don't embrace creeping socialism like you and I won't play your game, then I agree. It's impossible not to remind you that if you don't like freedom of adults to choose how they live then you don't have to live in America. I suggest Cuba, where decisions will be made for you like when you were a little girl. Daddy Castro will take care of all of your problems. Frankly, I don't care if you like my tone. I don't like your patronizing, self-imporant attitude. I'm not trying to be your friend or make nicey-nice. I want you and your ilk to mind your own business...Get it? Watch what happens in the next set of elections. People are tired of being talked down to and being told how to live. Left-wing radicals - blame yourselves when a Conservative is elected President next - you push people in that direction when you attack their liberties... Don't bother responding - I won't read it. 

that no-one is suggesting banning anything. The idea is that products and practices which unfairly externalize their costs on those who don't use them or benefit from them would be taxed to both discourage their use and to provide funds to deal with the problems they create. 


it's funny - i haven't read this blog in a few months and haven't commented in a loooong time. I don't live in Chapel Hill anymore, but I thought I'd check out ol' Orange Politcs just to see what was going on. I'll tell ya, you guys are Sean Hannity's dream. Let's just tax everything, ok? Will that make some of you happy? Wow...I hafta crawl back into my hole now before fall farther into caricature-ville...

Look, I actually don't much like the idea of taxes as punishment, especially enacted piecemeal because of the very problems of vagueness and applicability that many have brought up here.  The trouble is, we live in a society that values only one motivation - money/profit; and as long as other sanctions such as conscience, honor, or shame have lost all power to motivate, we have limited means to correct certain parts of society that have gone so wrong that others have to pay for it -- either with their own money (insurance premiums, taxes, etc.) or their actual pain and hardship.  It's not accidental that we have loaded prisons but with few white-collar convictions - we're at a complete loss as to how to effectively preserve the common welfare so we either jail the easily-jailed or cross our fingers.  Self-monitoring and self-control isn't valued and has stopped working.  If anyone has a better way to motivate people to do the right  -- as in constructive, contributing, and positive -- thing, in the public rather than the individual interest, I'm all for it.

This thread is a bit scary.I'd invite everyone here to imagine a world wherein their ideological nemesis were given the power to justify their proposals on the same grounds that you are.

Costs of business are constantly externalized on us. Individuals, governments, and corporations make decisions every day that affect others. It's so overwhelming it appears to be random white noise. Our challenge is to democratically address these imbalances. The lazy libertarian may simply say "don't tell me what to do" but the complex problems are real and the status quo ain't working. 

I think you should be careful hurling a word like "lazy" when you're advocating for a taxation system based on little more than subjective whims and preferences. Yes, the actions of corporations, governments and individuals in general are constantly "externalized" to you and others. I'm not sure why you feel you have some kind of right to be free of the realities of the world at large, but let's assume for a minute you do. If so, how can you then justify your own proposals which, in reality, are nothing but that which you complain about? Certainly taxes on fast food and all else that you find distasteful would create new externalities, no? What then?Yes, these are "complex problems", but it appears you've done little to explore that complexity. This imbalance you speak of, for instance, implies counterweights of distinct and differing measures. Have you quantified the toll upon society of these evil forces?  Certainly that would be the first step towards determining the appropriate tariff, no? What, for example, does Carrburritos owe to society in exchange for that which it has already collected?

You wrote " Yes, the actions of corporations, governments and individuals in general are constantly "externalized" to you and others. I'm not sure why you feel you have some kind of right to be free of the realities of the world at large." Isn't that the opposite of freedom? Laying down and accepting externalities being forced upon us?



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