A couple of years from now, Angelina Alvarez drops by the local supermarket to pick up some rolls and a quart of milk.
“Gee,” she thinks as she walks through the store, eyeing the tags, “Food’s getting expensive!”
Over near the bakery, she’s surprised to see the demon Beelzebub standing there, smirking. Four feet tall, three feet wide and ruddy red, he’s wearing a lounge-lizard leisure suit. While he combs his greasy pompadour, from out of the back of his pants his pointed tail twitches nervously back and forth.
Sensing her staring at him, Beelzebub turns, pockets his dirty comb and gives her a big, oily smile. He seems sort of excited.
“Hey, babe—you can see me! Normally folks can’t.”
As he sidles over toward her—trailing a buzzing swarm of gnats—Angelina looks nervously around. But somehow she can’t move her feet.
“This is great,” continues Beelzebub, stinking faintly of sulphur. “Ya know, sometimes a guy’s just got to sing his own praises—and you, babe, are my lucky audience.”
The demon points a horny nail at the plastic price card in front of the jalapeno rolls Angelina came for. The card levitates into the air and hovers before her.
“Wh-what’s going on?” she asks, shrinking back a bit.
“Check out the price,” chortles Beelzebub. “A single roll now costs $1.50!”
“Why that’s … that’s outrageous!” says Angelina, despite herself. “Why?”
Beelzebub dances a quick jig of demonic delight. “I, ahem, am a genius at fiscal atrocities, and this is my most diabolic masterpiece yet—the gross receipts tax! Your politicians adopted it in 2003 and it’s working wonderfully!”
“But … but we were all told it was going to be a business tax!” protests Angelina. “Over and over the governor an’ all those other people told us that they were going after businesses—not average folks like us!”
“Ah, yes,” says his Infernalness. “That’s what they said—and they will definitely receive their due reward.
“But,” he continues proudly, “just because the gross receipts tax is collected by businesses doesn’t mean average working folks like you won’t get soaked. Actually, that’s my genius, that’s—”
Angelina interrupts angrily: “What do you mean, “get soaked”? How am I—how is my family—going to get soaked?”
“It’s simple, really,” says Beelzebub, clapping a professorial mortarboard onto his head. “The gross receipts tax, or GRT, is actually only a devilish kind of sales tax—devilish because it gets applied again and again—all the way through the entire chain of production.
“Take these rolls, for example,” he says. “They happen to be almost entirely produced here in Nevada.
“The flour comes from a farmer in the north. When he sells his wheat to the miller, the gross receipts tax costs him and goes into his price. Then, when the miller grinds the wheat and sells the flour to the baker, the GRT on the miller raises his costs and prices, too.
“The trucker takes the flour from the miller to the baker, so the trucker’s gross receipts tax also gets rolled into the price. And because these are jalapeno rolls, the GRT on the Nevada condiment farmer who sells his peppers to the specialty baker also becomes a factor. Same with the Nevada dairies who supply the baker with his butter and milk.
“When the baker sells his rolls to the supermarket,” Beelzebub tells Angelina, “he, too, calculates his gross receipts tax. And then, finally, when you and other working Nevadans buy the rolls here in the supermarket—or anything else here in Nevada—you pay not just for the GRT on the supermarket but also for all of those different, pyramided, gross-receipts-tax payments that were costs for everyone in the production chain and so got rolled up into the final price.”
As Angelina grasps the full horror of Beelzebub’s GRT scheme, a wave of fear—for herself, her family and her friends—washes over her. Unconsciously she touches the small decorative cross on the chain around her neck.
Utter terror crosses the demon’s face and almost instantly a huge celestial hand reaches down through the supermarket ceiling and flicks him out of sight, into some other dimension.
Angelina rubs her eyes. “Wow,” she thinks. “Am I losing it? Have I been working too hard?”
But later, standing in the long checkout line, she notices that the high prices remain unchanged. And amid the glassy reflections on the checkout scanner, she catches a glimpse of … a demonic grin.
Steven B. Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.