Dan Walters

Dan Walters
By Dan Walters
January 31, 2016 3:30 PM

  • State’s residents had nation’s sixth-highest tax burden in 2012
  • That was a drop from fourth a year earlier
  • Voters will decide this year whether to increase tax load

California’s state and local governments hit us with about $250 billion in taxes every year, $6,000-plus per Californian.

A new report from the Tax Foundation, based on 2012 data, puts Californians’ tax burden at 11 percent of personal income, the fairest way to calculate and compare.

Whether that burden is too high, too low or about right is a matter of perpetual debate in political, media and academic circles.

It was the sixth-highest level of any state in 2012, but it had dropped from fourth in the 2011 rankings as the percentage also declined from 11.5 percent. It’s also consistent with the state’s level of taxation over the last several decades, according to the databank maintained by the Tax Foundation.

Just before the passage of Proposition 13, California’s iconic property tax limit, in 1978, state and local taxation was 12.2 percent of personal income, the nation’s fourth highest.

With property taxes reduced and then limited, California dropped to under 11 percent and its burden has varied only marginally in the nearly 40 years since, ranging from a low of 10.5 percent in the early years of the last decade to as high as 11.7 percent in 2010.

Parenthetically, were California still taxing at the 12.2 percent pre-Proposition 13 level, it would mean about $15 billion more in state and local revenue each year and put California in a tie with New Jersey for No. 3 behind New York’s 12.7 percent and Connecticut’s 12.6 percent.

These numbers frame what is likely to be fierce debate this year over California taxes, centered on a November ballot measure to extend the temporary surtaxes on high-income Californians that voters adopted in 2012.

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