Data Tracker

California taxes: Who's paying the most?

It's tax time in California again -- state tax returns must be filed by April 15. But who is paying the most state income taxes? Which counties bear the most burden? And how much have state taxes gone up over the years? Check out the graphics below to see ...

Here's the breakdown:

· The wealthy are paying about two-thirds of the state's income taxes.

· California's cities are largely subsidizing rural areas.

· Average income taxes paid have risen sharply.

· But, even with inflation, most Californians earn more than they did a few decades ago.

An uneven burden

Like everywhere else, California has a progressive income tax system, with the wealthy paying more than the poor. Unlike everywhere else, California has a really, really progressive income tax system. When it comes time to raise taxes, we say, "Don't tax me, tax the rich people who can afford it." Residents earning north of $200,000 control 39 percent of the state's income, but pay 66 percent of its income taxes. This chart shows the proportion of income taxes paid by income level during the 2007 tax year. Incomes reflect amounts reported on each state tax return.

State taxes paid by income group, tax year 2007


Big cities pay bigger share

Because most of the wealthy live in urban areas, those areas have a much higher average state income tax burden. Residents of Marin County, for example, pay about $11, on average, in income taxes for every $1 paid by residents of Imperial County.

Average tax bill jumps sharply

The average state income tax paid by Californians has risen pretty steadily over the decades. Because our system focuses on the wealthy, though, there have been lots of fluctuations. The dot-com boom, for instance, saw a huge influx of cash as the rich got richer. The subsequent dot-com bust had the opposite impact.

Average state tax paid per return, 1968-2007 (with inflation adjustment, too)


Incomes rising, other taxes falling

Still, it's not fair to just say Californians pay more income taxes these days. For one thing, the state's residents have also gotten richer. For another, the state relies less these days on other taxes like the property tax. Also, it's generally accepted that the poor and middle class pay a larger portion of their income on other taxes like the sales tax. Income taxes, then, are, in a way, just a larger piece of a similar-size puzzle.

Income and total taxes paid as a proportion of personal income, 1968-2007


Sources: California Franchise Tax Board, California Department of Finance

Notes: "Total taxes" in the fourth graphic excludes departmental, interest and miscellaneous revenues. Inflation conversion factors from


Most data from

Franchise Tax Board's latest annual report

, which covers the 2007 tax year. One chart initially was mislabeled as covering the 2008 tax year. Added line for context about the sales tax to the fourth graphic on 4/8 AM. Also sharpened language in a couple of places to make it clear the first three charts deal with the income tax only.