Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Blog Post · April 15, 2022

Californians Sour on State and Local Tax System

photo - a couple working on their taxes online

As Californians prepare for Tax Day on Monday, it’s a perfect time to take a look at how residents feel about their taxes. Our most recent PPIC Statewide Survey found that record-high shares of Californians think that they pay more in taxes than they should and that the state and local tax system is not fair.

Three in four Californians believe that the state ranks near the top (51%) or above average (26%) in state and local tax burden per capita, compared to other states. The share saying California ranks near the top is at a record high and this perception is in line with fiscal facts: California’s state and local tax collections per capita in 2019 were the seventh-highest in the nation, according to the Tax Policy Center.

When asked about the amount of taxes they pay to state and local governments, more than six in ten Californians say they are either paying much more (35%) or somewhat more (27%) than they should. About one in three say they are paying about the right amount.

Across regions, residents in the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and Orange/San Diego are much more likely than those in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area to say they pay much more than they should. Republicans (56%) are twice as likely as Democrats (28%) to hold this view, compared to 41% of independents. Across income groups, the share saying they pay much more than they should is higher among those with incomes of $40,000 or less (38%) and those with incomes of $80,000 or more (41%), compared to those with incomes between $40,000 and $80,000 (29%).

Overall, nearly six in ten Californians say that the current state and local tax system is either not too fair (29%) or not at all fair (29%), while just four in ten say it is very fair (6%) or moderately fair (34%). The percentage saying that the system is not fair has increased 13 points since March 2021 and is at a record high today.

Republicans and independents are more likely than Democrats to say the tax system is not fair, but voters across parties are increasingly likely to hold this view in recent years. This negative view is highest in the Central Valley (67%) and lowest in the San Francisco Bay Area (47%, 57% Los Angeles, 59% Inland Empire, 60% Orange/San Diego). The share saying the tax system is not fair increases with rising income (54% less than $40,000, 59% $40,000 to under $80,000, 63% $80,000 or more).

California has long been known as a state with higher taxes. Perceptions about taxes today may be affected by experiences of financial hardship due to recent inflation and news of the state’s large budget surplus. Despite negative views about the tax system, a slim majority of Californians (51%) still say they would rather pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services (44% say they would rather pay lower taxes and have fewer government services). As the midterm election nears, political candidates’ positions on taxes will surely be closely watched. Stay tuned to the PPIC Statewide Survey as we continue to track Californians’ opinions on state and local taxes.


Economy inflation Political Landscape Statewide Survey taxes