Proposed 'Paw and Claw Tax' Still Bites

Sometimes stories we write develop “legs” of their own. That’s particularly true when we write about loveable little creatures with four hairy legs.

Last week I wrote about an outrageously foolish idea: A pet tax. New York State Senator Frank Padavan proposed a special 3 percent tax to be levied on items purchased for dogs, cats and other cuddly creatures that folks bring into their homes. The tax would be tacked on top of New York’s already high sales tax. The senator claims the revenue collected would go only to animal shelters, to which I said, “Yeah, right!”

From Social Security taxes to taxes on scratch-off lottery tickets, politicians always divert tax dollars to purposes other than those for which they were originally intended. If taxes went only to specific services, it’s unlikely that a state senator like Sen. Padavan could afford to have three separate offices (unless he pays for those offices out of his own pocket—which isn’t a bad idea).

Sen. Padavan’s director of public affairs wrote a letter in response, which we happily ran with my column in this space. First off, he claimed I never called the senator, even though I left my name and phone number at one of his three offices and never got a call back. I’m happy to share my phone records with him if he’d like. Maybe he never got the message. It’s hard to keep track of calls that come into three separate offices. (Memo to New York State cost-cutters: look into how much state senators spend on offices, not to mention directors of public affairs).

Sen. Padavan went on to claim that I must have overlooked the section of his bill that certifies “there is absolutely no question that the tax collected under this bill would be deposited in the fund.” The “fund” that Sen. Padavan proposes to establish as part of this bill would be used to subsidize “animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation.” Sen. Padavan asks why I don’t believe that that’s where all the money collected will go, and he wonders: “I don't know which politicians have burned him.”

Well since you asked, Senator … almost all of them! Both Democrats and Republicans have been raiding the Social Security Trust Fund for decades. The Great Society program, besides creating perverse incentives that hooked millions of poor people into a dead-end life of public assistance, turned into a major windfall for welfare “experts,” who have bilked the taxpayers for billions over the years. And most recently, a Republican Congress and Republican president have increased non-defense spending in this country by 40 percent, much of it wasted on “bridges to nowhere” and the like. Yes, Senator, lots of politicians have burned us all. It’s shocking that you have to even ask the question.

But more than the almost inevitable misdirection of funds from waste is the disincentive that many new spending programs create. I have little if any patience for politicians who know nothing about incentives, which are the driving force of activity within a free market. A politician of all people should know that when you tax something more, you get less of it.

In this case, when folks are weighing the advantages and disadvantages of taking a pet out of an animal shelter and into their home, they are less likely to get one if it costs even more to pay for providing for it. Senator Padavan’s bill would create a disincentive for someone thinking of adding a pet into their life. It would stop people from helping the very creatures the bill seeks to protect.

The New York Sun, which originally revealed the “Paw and Claw Tax,” spoke to this last point in an editorial that came to my defense: “If the idea is to use the power of the state to help animals, why not give a tax credit to persons who keep pets … Is [Sen. Padavan] trying to discourage the owning of pets? Or the feeding of pets? The fact is that if one wants to encourage New Yorkers to help pets and other animals, the best way to do it is to reduce the taxes on pets and pet-owning activities and increase taxes on activities that are antithetical to owning pets.”

I’d love to see the responses Sen. Padavan is getting in the mail from pet owners around the state. No doubt some of them resemble this one I received from pet owner Lorianne La Marca, who lives in Massapequa, N.Y.:

“This recent proposed tax is absolutely an outrage to responsible pet owners. We are already footing the high veterinary bills for sick animals that are purchased in pet stores, over the Internet and through so called ‘Reputable Breeders.’…Are you listening out there?”

There is nothing more disreputable than a lawmaker who makes a bad law. But there is nothing more reputable than a lawmaker who rips up a bad law. In this case, Sen. Padavan need do no more than to stop the law from being made. He would make a lot of creatures very happy — both the hairy, four-legged kind and the longer two legged version.

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David Asman is the host of "Forbes on FOX" which airs on the FOX News Channel, Saturdays at 11 a.m. ET.