Federal Excise Taxes

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A variety of taxes levied by the federal government, which make up a fairly minor part of federal revenues are called excise taxes. They come in several categories:

Transporation, Communication and Energy Taxes

Gasoline, gasohol, and various other fuels like diesel, boat fuel, and aviation fuel, as well as liquefied petroleum (LPG), liquefied natural gas, kerosene, and coal are subject to excise taxes on a cents per gallon or per ton (in the case of coal) basis. Last time I checked, the tax on gasoline was 18.4 cents per gallon at the federal level (states have their own gas taxes). Gas taxes and some of the other transporation taxes are earmarked to pay for highways.

Gas taxes in the United States are far lower than those in most of the developed world. This is one of the important reasons by gasoline costs $3-$4 per gallon in Europe and Japan, while costing about $2 per gallon in the United States. In other countries gas taxes are means of implementing Energy policy, as well as a way of funding Transportation infrastructure (i.e. highways).

Heavy motor vehicles (55,000 pound of larger) pay a highway motor vehicle tax of $100 to $550 per year. Highway tires over 40 pounds are subject to another excise tax, and purchases of commercial grade trucks and trailers are subject to a federal sales tax of 12% of retail price. Expensive passenger vehicles are subject to a luxury tax which is in the process of being phased out.

There is also a gas guzzler tax of up to $7,700 per vehicle charged on vehicles with really bad mileage.

Air travel is subject to fedral ticket taxes which are now rather complicated. These taxes are also basically users fees earmarked for the Transporation Security Admininistration (TSA) in the Department of Homeland Security and for the FAA which runs the air traffic control system.

There is a tax on each passenger transported by water and a tax on imports by ship which pays largely for harbor maintenance.

There is a federal excise tax of 3% of charges for telephone services.

Alcohol, Tobacco, Gambling and Firearms Taxes

Both states and the federal government tax cigarettes on a per cigarette basis. Related taxes are imposed on other forms of tobacco and cigarette papers and tubes.

Alcohol is taxed by volume with different rates applying to beer, wine and liquor (with additional distinctions among wines by alcohol content). There is some crude proportionality to the amount of alcohol in the drink, but it is not exact.

Legal gambling operations operators must pay of licensing fee, and both lotteries and other gambling operations must pay a 0.25% of wagers excise tax on gambling.

There is a federal sales tax on firearms and ammunition (10%-11% depending on the item), a transfer tax per firearm, and a fairly hefty licensing fee in order to import, manfacture or sell firearms.

These taxes are commonly known as "sin taxes". The do raise revenue, but they largely exist to discourage purchases of the type in question, or at least, to pay for the costs to government associated with these activities sometimes associated with bad conduct.

Hunting and Fishing Taxes; Vaccine Taxes

There are federal exercise taxes on fishing equipment, bows and arrows ranging from 3% to 12.4% of retail value depending on the item. These are inteded to pay for parks and conservation.

There is also a 75 cents per dose tax on certain vaccines intended to pay for certain health programs.

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