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Come out, come out, wherever you are: Good luck finding all the hidden taxes you pay

You're a responsible consumer, use coupons, track sales, and in general try to be a savvy shopper. But do you know how much of your spending goes to taxes?

I don't, and I even tried to keep track. At the beginning of this month, I held onto every receipt and went so far as to create a spreadsheet. Different taxes would be logged in the appropriate columns.

But it was a futile experiment and I abandoned the exercise in just a few days. Why? Because sales tax is such a convoluted and complex system, that I defy anyone to figure out just how much of what they spend is a tax.


I live in Illinois. Chicago to be precise, which is in Cook County. And while I increasingly feel like a moron for paying the real estate taxes that I do and getting next to nothing in return, trying to determine just how much more of my money was going to the local "authorities" seemed like an interesting experiment.

Until I tried to do it. Often, taxes on prepared foods, beverages and even gasoline are included in the price. Trying to back them out proved impossible as well, thanks to things like a special 3% additional beverage tax on soft drinks sold within the designated "downtown" area (and with a very generous definition that has downtown stretching well into north, south and west side neighborhoods).

There are also things like a five cent tax on every bottle of water, a taxi cab surcharge to or from specific destinations, and extra 1% tax on food and beverages also in this fabricated downtown district. There are entertainment taxes, fees on sporting events, surcharges on all utilities including cell phone services. It goes on and on and it's getting even more complicated.

Last year, Cook County claimed the honor of having the highest sales tax in the country at 10.25%. Heck, we even charge travelers more in taxes than anyplace else. And to get even more, legislators just voted to reclassify food items that would be taxed at just 2% as non-food, so it can be taxed at the higher rate.

Yes, that's right. If it's a food item but doesn't contain flour, it can be considered a non-food item. This means things like many candy products will be taxed at 10.25%. Have fun at Halloween, kids!

And for adults, alcohol is getting a lot more expensive, thanks to another tax increase across all three tiers of classifications. Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, tells the Chicago Tribune it's not so bad. For a one-fifth bottle of distilled spirits, the tax would jump from 90 cents to $1.71; the tax on a bottle of wine would increase 13 cents to 28 cents; a six-pack of beer would go from 10.4 cents to 13 cents, Hofer said.

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