California goes buggy with newest tax

After researchers squawked about the tax — er, fee — that would have to pay on bugs, the folks at the Department of Fish and Wildlife have relented.

Published on June 15, 2017 8:09AM

It’s not a big deal — nothing involving insects generally is — but we couldn’t help but comment on a new tax that our friends in California have cooked up.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to charge a fee to any researcher who collects bugs. As initially proposed in an 83-page document, the fee would have been $421.58 per team of researchers that planned to collect any animal, no matter how rare. As is often the case with such fees, they would be accompanied by a requisite pile of paperwork. According to the paperwork justifying the change in paperwork, delays in reviewing applications — paperwork — were a problem.


Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California-Davis, does a lot of research on insects. She sees the bug collection fee as an obstruction for researchers and scientists.

We see it as just another tax. After all, California taxes virtually everything else — why not bugs?

California taxes your income and your company’s payroll. California also taxes everything you buy in the state — and anything you bought elsewhere but use in the state.

But that’s just getting warmed up. According to the state Board of Equalization, it also has “special” taxes and fees on tires, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, electronic waste, diesel fuel, telephones, electricity, fire prevention, hazardous waste, garbage dumps, jet fuel, batteries, lumber, ballast water from ships, gasoline, natural gas, lead, oil spills, cell phones, insurers, storage tanks, utilities and water rights.

And don’t leave out cities and counties, with their property and sales taxes, and other jurisdictions, including the Air Resources Board, which taxes the air — carbon dioxide.

It seems California’s state song should be “Tax Man,” that old Beatles tune. “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.”

What was missing? Bugs, of course. After all, this has the potential to bring in unlimited income for the state. There are an estimated 100,000 types of insects in California — about 6 percent haven’t even been named — and a bajillion of each type.

Let’s see, that’s 100,000 times a bajillion — the state would be rolling in dough if it could just figure out a way to tax anyone who wants to collect them.

Ironically, because most insect research is conducted by state university scientists, the fee would boil down to the state taxing itself, an innovation most governments haven’t figured out.

After researchers squawked about the tax — er, fee — they would have to pay to collect bugs, the folks at the Department of Fish and Wildlife relented. They plan only to tax researchers who collect bugs from an elite list of “special” bugs.

Which is good, because they wouldn’t want to seem greedy.


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