Friday, March 30, 2012

 Being Stupid Can Be Taxing

(originally published in the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, NY, December 6, 1988)

 So here's how it all started: A bunch of the guys in the Caucus were sitting around, trying to figure out how to get up some money.
   "Raise the tax on cigarettes, "says O'Malley, and Dutch hits him upside the head with a wadded-up empty pack of Camels.
   Dutch smokes two packs a day and figures the only way he'll ever turn a profit on his own taxes is to check into the VA with lung cancer.
   "What about a new statewide sales tax?" says Milstein. "Kick it up a penny. Nobody'll notice.'
   "The municipalities'll notice," says Callaghan. "Same thing with real estate. The locals'll raise holy Ned if we do any more hunting on their preserves. Nah, we need to tax something new. We need to tax something everybody has, but that they ain't paying any taxes on now."
   "The guys in my district are always telling me the next tax will be on the air they breathe," says Dutch. "It's worth a thought."
   "Manhattan'd refuse to pay it," says Milstein. "What they got to breathe ain't worth paying for."
   "I got something else in mind," says Callaghan. "Something almost as common as air. Something we're surrounded by every day. Something this state already has away too much of."
   "What's that?" says Dutch.
   Callaghan gets this big smile on his kisser. "Stupidity. Any shortage of that in your district, Dutch?"
   "In my district?" he asks. "There ain't no shortage of that in my immediate family! But how you gonna tax stupidity?"
   "Yeah," says Milstein. "You think the people downstate would get upset about paying for air which they ain't got, wait'll you try to tax'em for brains which ditto."
   "What're you gonna do, Callaghan?" says O'Malley. "Make 'em take a test or something? Who's gonna write the test?"
   Dutch whistles. "You think you got trouble with the Regents and the SAT's and all that? How you gonna write up a stupidity test that ain't culturally biased?"
   "Don't need a test," Callaghan says, still with the smile. "This is a tax people will pay without a test. They'll volunteer."
   "Right," says Milstein. "They'll just send in their money. They'll say, 'Here you go, I'm pretty stupid. Here's fifty bucks.' In a pig's eye. Callaghan! Who's gonna admit to that?"
   "They won't have to," Callaghan laughs."That's the beauty. We don't call it a stupidity tax. We call it a 'state lottery.' We tell'em, if they give us their money, we might give them a whole, bunch of money back. The more they give us, the more chance we might give them a couple or 20 million bucks. They'll be lined up out into the streets, fighting to pay their stupidity tax. We won't even be able to collect it ourselves, it'll be coming in so fast. We'll have to farm out the job to convenience stores, groceries, gas stations, every place you can think of. You start taxing stupidity, boys, you're talking about a major windfall, you know."
   Dutch shakes his head. "I don't know, Callaghan. You're talking about giving the money back?"
   "Bird feed!" Callaghan snorts. "We lay 20, 30, even 50 million bucks on one dumb schmoo in Queens, every other dumb schmoo across the state is gonna think he's next in line. That's the beautiful thing about this: The more stupidity they got, the more they pay! One pathetic jerk wins the money, there'll be 100 million other pathetic jerks lined up to pay us back and then some, the next morning."
   "So what are the odds on this thing, this big money?" O'Malley asks.
   "14 million-to-one," Callaghan says. "That's what weeds out all the smart people who shouldn't have to pay. I mean, a person with half a brain is automatically exempt from paying the stupidity tax, just by virtue of knowing what a sucker deal it is. You gotta figure, you got more chance of being hit by lightning. Twice. You got more chance of signing with the Knicks. You got more chance of meeting the Pope in an elevator."
   "Most of my constituents think they got a chance of being swept up in a UFO," Milstein admits. "14 million-to-one odds don't mean nothing to them. Meet the Pope, nothing. They think they still got a chance to meet Elvis."
   "I got to hand it to you, Callaghan," says Dutch. "A stupidity tax. That's really beautiful. It's the one kind of tax nobody's gonna wise up to."