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To Fill Budget Gaps, ‘Stealth’ Taxes Are Creeping Up

France, promising to improve the environment, is planning to introduce a carbon tax. In Finland, where the government says it wants to improve diets, taxes are back on candy and soft drinks. Similarly, Denmark has added tobacco and some fatty foods to the list of taxed products.

Britain is taking a different tack, considering a so-called horse tax.

All these taxes may be presented as serving virtuous ends, but they also have something else in common: they help plug budget holes deepened by the recession, bailouts and billions in stimulus spending.

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At a time when political leaders in Europe and the United States are committed to no additional income-tax burden on the middle class, they also share the advantage of raising revenue without drawing too much attention to the tightening fiscal noose.

As a result, analysts say, taxpayers from California to Copenhagen should brace themselves for more “stealth taxes” — indirect levies like sales taxes, or microcharges on services once provided free, like registering a pet.

Such charges can have many benefits for tax collectors. For one thing, they are less volatile and less dependent on the economic cycle than corporate or income taxes. For another, they are less prone to avoidance and cheaper to collect. Finally, analysts say, they are generally easier to enact.

“Politics comes into it,” said Stephen Matthews, a tax expert at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Raising income taxes is more of a “last resort,” he said.

Not that income taxes are entirely off the table. President Obama has vowed to restore the higher tax rates of the Clinton era on those earning more than $250,000 a year. And the British government just returned its top rate on high incomes to 50 percent after years of declines. But those increases are focused on the wealthy.

Given the public anger over the cost of bailing out the financial system, the idea behind such measures, Mr. Matthews added, is to be seen as tough on the rich.

But countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, France and Belgium already set their top rates around 50 percent, and sometimes higher. For most countries, there is no room to go much further.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, for example, was elected in 2007 promising to put more disposable income in people’s pockets. In the areas of income, corporate and wealth taxes, he has kept his pledge, capping increases. But with the bills from the financial crisis now landing — and the deficit rising — he is becoming more creative.

The taxpayers’ pressure group Contribuables Associés claims that since Mr. Sarkozy was elected, at least 20 new taxes have been introduced, including one on crustaceans and mollusks to help pay for a rebate on diesel fuel for fishermen. Copayments for some medications have gone up, as well as television license fees.

An official from the office of Éric Woerth, the French budget minister, disputed the group’s figure, saying it was much lower. The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said that the overall fiscal burden for households and companies had fallen under the government of Mr. Sarkozy.

Other countries have leaned toward increasing or extending the value-added, or sales, tax.

The average V.A.T. rate in the European Union climbed to 19.8 percent in 2009 from 19.5 percent in 2008. It would have been higher except for a temporary cut in Britain that expired in January.

A survey by the accounting firm KPMG in October said that the average V.A.T. rate in Europe would hit 20 percent this year or next.

Beyond the taxes on unhealthy foods, Denmark recently removed tax exemptions on travel agencies, property management and the supply of buildings and land.

Finland, besides resurrecting taxes on candy and carbonated drinks, raised the V.A.T. rate.

“There will also be a mixed bag of other indirect taxes and smaller stealth taxes, which combine revenue generation with other goals like improving the environment,” Niall Campbell, global head of indirect tax at KPMG, said in an interview by telephone from Dublin.

Britain raised the duty it adds to airplane tickets last year, and it will jump again on Nov. 1. While billed as an environmental tax, the revenue goes directly into the Treasury, critics say.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a British research group, estimates that revenue from air duties will almost double to £3.3 billion ($5 billion) by 2014.

France has announced plans for a carbon tax, intended to encourage conservation. It would be levied on fuels as a proportion of their emissions. It is supposed to be revenue-neutral, with a range of exemptions. Critics, including the opposition Socialist Party, argue that it will fall disproportionately on the poor.

Other taxes are focused even more narrowly.

Last year, Northern Ireland announced that it would raise the cost of a dog license tenfold to £50, ostensibly to better tackle the problem of strays and violent attacks.

London released a draft bill in January that would establish an animal health body, the cost to be met partly by livestock owners. Equestrians have called it the horse tax and are angry that a leisure industry will have to pay for a measure to aid farmers, who already receive payouts from the European Union.

Di Grissell, a former jockey and the owner of Grissell Racing, a racehorse training facility in East Sussex, England, expects her personal income and business to be squeezed.

“The government’s being very crafty by bringing in back-door tax increases,” she said. “The good guys — people who work and are trying to build businesses — are being taxed to the hilt.”

A similar trend is playing out in the United States. In 2008, Winter Haven, Fla., started charging “accident response fees” to move the financial burden of tending to accidents directly to at-fault drivers.

This month, Nevada officials drafted an emergency regulation to raise entrance fees and season passes for state parks to help plug a gap in state funds, according to The Associated Press.

Data from the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, shows that the total state and local government revenue as a percentage of personal incomes has been steadily rising since the start of the last decade.

By contrast, experts said, most Western governments will not tinker with corporate tax. Those receipts naturally fall during downturns as companies earn less. Corporate tax is also seen as a zero-sum game, as raising rates could lead companies to flee to lower-tax jurisdictions.

In recent years, the overall tax burden has been volatile. Among counties belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, tax rates were highest around 2000, then dropped in response to the dot-com recession, before rising again.

“Governments have tended to use the benefits of new growth over the past decade to cut taxes rather than improve public finances,” Mr. Matthews of the O.E.C.D. said.

“They thought that growth was sustainable,” he added. “In hindsight, it clearly wasn’t.”