What a Web Tax Collectors Weave

Defining "Prepared" vs. Raw Food a Warning to Service Taxers

The Nov. 6 edition of the Gongwer Michigan Report (subscription required) describes a new "bulletin" from the Michigan Department of Treasury defining which foods are considered "prepared" — and thus subject to the state sales tax — and which are not:

"If you buy a donut and are handed a napkin, the donut is taxable; if you buy a donut and get a sheet of waxed paper, the donut is not taxable ... [F]ried chicken sold hot would be taxable. Fried chicken that was cooled and sold cold would not be taxable. Frozen pizza sold with napkins, plates and forks would be taxable, but frozen pizza that a purchaser then heats up in a microwave oven provided by the retailer is not taxable."

And so on.

The intricracy of such logic-chopping indicates that nothing's as simple as it first appears in the world of taxation. That's something to consider for those currently pushing to extend Michigan's sales tax to services while also lowering the rate from 6 percent to 5 percent. Of course, the stated goal is to "broaden the base and reduce the rate."

Maybe. But taxpayers here are already turned off by the political establishment's substitution of tax hikes and regulatory expansions for accomplishing any significant government restructuring over the past decade. They may look upon this bulletin as a foretaste of the level of intrusion we can expect should tax collectors get around to deciding whether the neighbor's kid who cuts your lawn need not remit sales tax, but the professional lawn service does.

To help wrap your imagination around that one, here's a list of 200 taxable services for you.