Who pays the most taxes?

Ever wondered how your state ranks in terms of taxes collected and owed? The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit Washington-based organization, has released a booklet that breaks it all down. (Access the booklet by clicking here.)

Because this blog is based in Utah, I paid particular attention to the figures concerning that state. Generally, however, states in the Northeast seem to be the highest taxed states, while those in the South taxed the least.

Connecticut has the highest per capita state and local tax burden at $6,984. That’s the amount every man, woman and child there pays each year, when the amount of tax collected is divided by the population.

The figure doesn’t include federal taxes.

Mississippi is at the other end of that scale at $2,625. I’ll let you judge which state you would rather live in, which may have little to do with these figures.

Utah comes in 36th, with a per capita state and local tax burden of $3,181.

Was I surprised by any of the data?

Well, conventional wisdom holds that Utah has the highest number of people per household in the nation. That’s true, but the spread between Utah and other states is astounding. Utah has 3.13 people per household, as of 2011. Hawaii came in second at 2.97.

Given that, it’s a bit surprising that Utah’s per capita income is not the worst in the nation. It ranks 46th, at $33,509. Considering the size of families in the state, this is not a good measure of relative salaries.

I was surprised that Utah’s gasoline tax rates rank in the middle of the pack, at 27th. The state hasn’t raised gas taxes since the late ‘90s. Bureaucrats and other experts are constantly telling me the state is falling far behind its highway needs because of this. Maybe this just means every other state is falling behind, as well.

When the amount of state and local government debt is divided out, Utah ranks 36th. Every man, woman and child owes $6,687 as his or her share. New York comes in first with $16,364, and Idaho is theleast indebted per capita at $3,919.

Utah has a nearly dead even proportion of property, sales and income tax revenue, with each making up roughly between 25 percent and 27 percent of the total. A series of other taxes and fees makes up the rest.

The study ranks Utah as having the 10th best tax climate for business.

Also of interest is a breakdown of the amount of federal income tax paid by income level. The much-maligned 1 percent pays 37.4 percent of all income taxes paid. The top 10 percent pays 70.6 percent.

The bottom 50 percent, on the other hand, pays only 2.4 percent. Mitt Romney’s 47 percent? Well, it pays something less than that.

This puts an interesting light on calls for the rich to pay their “fair share.”

Categories: Utah issues, Washington
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About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

9 comments

  1. Lynn Henke

    But where the top 1% has 40% of all wealth and the top 20% have 93% of all wealth, you can see why folks feel the wealthy are not paying their fair share. They have almost ALL the wealth in this Country. And the bottom 50% who pay only 2.5% of the taxes? They have only 1% of the wealth. Go figure.

    • LDS Liberal

      Agreed.

      Notice –
      The bottom 50%, who own 1%, pay 2.5% (2.5 times their net worth)

      And these are the one’s paying for Freedom with their blood and their lives.

      No one in the top 1% EVER does that.

      You can’t put a price on human life.

      But money is a better symbol of value and more important than human lives to conservative America, right Jay?

      • Rubbish, LDS Liberal. I never said anything of the sort. Also, it’s rubbish to say no one in the top 1 percent EVER does anything to pay for freedom. Off the top of my head I can think of Pat Tillman, the NFL star, who quit to fight in Afghanistan and paid with his life. Almost by definition, NFL players are in the 1 percent. There are others, I’m sure. Didn’t you ever learn not to use absolutes in arguments? Third, it’s rubbish that the bottom 50 percent earn 1 percent of income. They earn 12.75 percent. Remember, income tax involves the taxing of income, not wealth. If you want to simply make things up, it doesn’t do much for your argument. It’s great, however, for fomenting class warfare and finding divisions instead of common ground. Way to elevate the discussion.

  2. Michael Chidester

    But, Mr. Evenson, your numbers don’t really mean what you try to make them say either. The percentage of income tax collected that is paid by individuals falling within higher income brackets will go up as those in lower income brackets become unemployed and no longer have income to tax. This will result in these higher-income individuals paying a higher percentage of taxes collected even if their actual tax bill went down. And, frankly, your accusatory response to LDS Liberal was out of line since the last sentence of your blog post was clearly designed to elicit those types of reactions.

    • It’s never out of line to react strongly when someone deliberately puts words in your mouth, Michael. And nothing I add at the end of a blog justifies that sort of thing. As to your other point, you need to demonstrate to me that unemployment has moved the needle in terms of who pays the most in income taxes. When I look at historical trends and figures, I just don’t see it.

  3. 10cc

    Interesting information, thought-provoking column.

    Jon Huntsman, Sr, is certainly in the top 1%, but I know of almost nobody who maligns him, so it may be a bit unfair to say the wealthy are the target of derision. People expect those who benefit from our economy more to contribute more, certainly. And they do. Is it enough? Up for debate.

    I think the question is what are the effects of widening distributions of income and wealth? Even in the Scandinavian nations where there is a strong emphasis on equality, highly progressive tax systems, and strong educational emphasis on elevating all the kids, the distribution of economic rewards is widening, just in the past 5 years.

    Our nation eschews the Scandinavian model, preferring that people keep more of the economic gains they reap… so what will be the effect of an even wider distribution of income & wealth here?

    At one point in the 1980s in El Salvador, 1% owned 99% of wealth, and of course the other 99% owned 1% of the wealth. This is obviously an extreme situation, and the results there were civil war with tens of thousands dead.

    As Richard Wilkinson the Epidemiologist has impressively demonstrated, economic inequalities have a corrosive effect on society, with wider inequalities yielding more adverse effects.

    Simple redistribution probably isn’t the answer, but where are we going, and if we’d like to end up somewhere else, how do we adjust course?

    • This is a good, thoughtful comment. It may surprise some of you to know I also consider the growing wealth gap to be a serious problem in this country. But the question of how to adjust course is a difficult one. One thing is certain, we don’t get there by vilifying people. We need to find ways to provide better opportunities and better education for those at the lower end.

  4. rolandkayser

    If you look at a list of the wealthiest Americans from thirty or forty years ago, it was dominated by people who made things. Today the list is dominated by financiers. Back when finance was less important they actually were focused on financing productive activity. Today their business is focused almost solely on trading esoteric financial instruments which create nothing of value except wealth for their owners.

    There is a recent book out called “A Million Dollars and Hour”, it is about the careers of the top hedge fund managers. The title comes from the amount of money some of them actually make. If you were to describe their activities to an average person they would tell you they were committing theft, or fraud, or were, at the very least, cheating. These people have also bribed enough Members of Congress to get all of their income taxed at capital gains rates, far lower than income tax rates.

    When I complain about the abuses of the rich, it is these people I am complaining about. And yes, their taxes are far too low in relation to their income.

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