Hi and welcome to Just Answer!
I understand that that Arizona monitors declared values on UPS and FedEx shipments and will charge the recipient a use tax, sales tax, privilege tax or whatever they want to call it at the time.
The Arizona transaction privilege tax is commonly referred to as a sales tax; however, the tax is on the privilege of doing business in Arizona and is not a true sales tax. Although the transaction privilege tax is usually passed on to the consumer, it is actually a tax on the vendor.
You are correct that all states are short of revenue and nowadays are more aggressive in their collection efforts.
The tax is meant to be the equivalent of a sales tax if purchased in AZ.
The state use tax rate is equal to the state transaction privilege tax rate. Any person who uses, stores or consumes any tangible personal property upon which tax has not been collected by a retailer shall pay use tax. An Arizona purchaser is liable for use tax on goods purchased from an out-of-state vendor that did not collect the use tax
Can you advise the tax rate?
TPT rates are based on your actual location. Please find current rates here - http://www.azdor.gov/Portals/0/TPTRates/201106.pdf
You may also use this online too – select your county or city - http://www.azdor.gov/Business/TransactionPrivilegeTax/TPTRates.aspx
Is art not considered to be used?
The art is a tangible property that you are going to use, store or consume in AZ. If you purchase it for resale – not for use – there will be different rules.
This one has had several owners, I am sure. If this tax is indeed real, what do they do if one does not pay it?
Two options – either AZ DOR would never learn that the TPT was not paid and it will remain uncollected or AZ DOR will send as a collection letter.
Can they assess penalties, confiscate, etc?
Yes – there will be penalties and interest for unpaid TPT. Yes – potentially AZ DOR may garnish your bank account, wages or other income, any property you own (even jointly) to satisfy the tax debt.
What if I just bring it to AZ in my luggage?
That will be a violation or the law. I may not say if the AZ DOR will find out about the violation or not – but there will not be statute of limitation for them to collect.
Seems like a very draconian tax law?
The tax law has never been fair. However TPT money is a large part of state and local budgets.
Sorry if you do not like the answer.
Let me know if you need any help or clarification.