During the time of Jesus in first century Israel, there were publicans and tax collectors who could walk up to a man and tax him for what he was carrying! These tax collectors were hated and despised - well, yeah - but not just because they had their hands in others' pockets (or pouches in those days), but also because the tax collectors were usually fellow Jews who worked for Rome. There were lots of taxes needed to administrate the Roman Empire. The taxes paid for roads, law and order, security, and other benefits.
The publican is mentioned quite often throughout the life of Christ. Since Israel was under Roman rule tax collecting was done by the chief tax collectors (the publicans). These guys would sell the rights to collect monies over to the regular tax collectors. Can you imagine the corruption?
Rome expected the provinces to do all the administering of the Empire. Judea was in the province of Syria and every man had to pay 1% of his annual income for income tax. Sounds pretty good compared to what we have to pay. But wait, that wasn't all. They also had import and export taxes, taxes on their crops and wine and olive oil, sales tax, property tax, and even an emergency tax. The list goes on and on. It was actually a Roman official who was, in the end, responsible to Rome to amass all these payments in the province, but he, too, sold the rights to collecting taxes to the highest bidders.
Tax collectors were hated and treated the same as the worst kinds of people, like thieves and prostitutes.
Matthew, one of the 12 disciples, was a tax-collector. Can you imagine how wonderful it was for him to experience love and fellowship with the other disciples?
(By the way the IRS’s budget for 2015 is tentatively 10.9 billion!)