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Blog Post · April 15, 2019

Californians and Their Tax Burden

It’s April 15—the perfect day to explore how Californians feel about the state and local tax system and how much they pay in taxes. According to the most recent PPIC Statewide Survey, seven in ten Californians believe that California currently ranks near the top (48%) or above average (22%) in state and local tax burden per capita. The public’s perception is somewhat in line with fiscal facts: California’s state and local tax collections per capita in 2015 were 10th-highest in the nation (Tax Policy Center, September 2018).

Notably, Republicans (65%) are much more likely than Democrats (47%) and independents (48%) to say California’s state and local tax burden is near the top. The share of Californians expressing this view increases with rising income (39% under $40,000, 52% $40,000 to $80,000, 61% $80,000 or more) and this view is more common among whites (57%) than among other racial/ethnic groups (47% Asian Americans, 44% African Americans, 38% Latinos).

Half of Californians (52%)—a record-high share—say that the state and local tax system is either not too fair (25%) or not at all fair (27%). This marks a 10-point increase since March 2017 and a 21-point increase since the first time we asked this question in June 2003. There are notable differences along partisan lines. More than two in three Republicans (69%) see the state and local tax system as not too or not at all fair, as do nearly six in ten independents (58%), compared to about four in ten Democrats (43%).

The belief that the system is not fair is widely held across regions, ranging from a high of 60% in the Inland Empire to 45% in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lower-income adults (46%) are somewhat less likely than more-affluent adults (60% $40,000 to $80,000, 54% $80,000 or more) to say that the current state and local tax system is not fair.

Figure 1: Perception That State and Local Tax System is Not Fair Across Regions

A record-tying 60% of Californians say they pay much more (39%) or somewhat more (21%) than they should in state and local taxes. The share saying they pay much more than they should is a record high and has increased 13 points since we first asked this question in February 2003. This view is widely held across regions and demographic groups. Notably, Republicans (61%) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (25%) and much more likely than independents (42%) to say they pay much more than they should.

Figure 2 - Shares Saying They Pay Much More in State and Local Taxes Than They Should

That said, California voters have passed tax increases in recent years, including extending the Proposition 30 income tax increases in 2016 and rebuffing an effort to repeal the recently passed increase to the state gas tax in 2018. Further, voters across the state have been more than willing to pass local tax measures. With a new governor and a supermajority of Democrats in the state legislature, are new taxes on the horizon? Stay tuned as the PPIC Statewide Survey gauges public support for any new proposals.


gas tax income tax Political Landscape Statewide Survey taxes