Comprehensive New 50-State Study Provides Detailed Profiles and Comparisons of Tax Systems and Distribution Including “Terrible Ten” Most Regressive States
State tax systems take a much larger share from middle- and low-income families than from wealthy families, according to the fourth edition of “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States,” released today by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). Combining all of the state and local income, property, sales and excise taxes state residents pay, the average overall effective tax rates by income group nationwide are 11.1 percent for the bottom 20 percent, 9.4 percent for the middle 20 percent and 5.6 percent for the top one percent. The report is online at www.whopays.org.
The ten states whose tax systems are tilted most heavily towards high earners (from most to least regressive) are Washington, Florida, South Dakota, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Alabama. In these states, middle-income families pay up to three times as high a share of their income as the wealthiest families; low-income families pay up to six times as much.
“We know that governors nationwide are promising to cut or eliminate taxes, but the question is who’s going to pay for it,” said Matthew Gardner, Executive Director of ITEP and an author of the study. “There’s a good chance it’s the so-called takers who spend so much on necessities that they pay an effective tax rate of 10 or more percent, due largely to sales and property taxes. In too many states, these are the people being asked to make up the revenues lost to income tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers.” State consumption tax structures are particularly regressive, with an average 7 percent rate for the poor, a 4.6 percent rate for middle incomes and a 0.9 percent rate for the wealthiest taxpayers nationwide.
The income tax in particular is being targeted for elimination by self-described tax reformers across the country, and Who Pays? shows that of the ten most regressive states, four do not have any taxes on personal income, one state applies it only to interest and dividends and the other five have a personal income tax that is flat or virtually flat across all income groups. “Cutting the income tax and relying on sales taxes to make up the lost revenues is the surest way to make an already upside down tax system even more so,” Gardner stated.
The data in Who Pays? also demonstrates that states commended as “low tax” are often high tax states for low- and middle- income families. The ten states with the highest taxes on the poor are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington. Noted Gardner, “When you hear people brag about their low tax state, you have to ask them, low tax for who?"
The fourth edition of Who Pays? measures the state and local taxes paid by different income groups in 2013 (at 2010 income levels including the impact of tax changes enacted through January 2, 2013) as shares of income for every state and the District of Columbia. The report is available online at www.whopays.org.