Friday, December 9, 2011

Tax Increase Proposals Bubbling Up for California Ballot

  • Governor Jerry Brown's (D) proposal to raise the sales tax by a half-cent and raise income taxes on high earners. Top rate would be 12.3 percent, up from the current 10.3 percent.
  • Teachers' union "Courage Campaign" proposal to impose higher income taxes on top earners. Top rate would be 15.3 percent.
  • Tom Steyer proposal to adopt single sales factor, taxing multistate companies based on their share of sales in California as opposed to their share of property or employees in the state.
  • "Think Long" proposal that broadens the sales tax, lowers rates, and raises a large amount of revenue. Services would be taxed at 5.5%, taxes on goods would drop a half-cent, the top income tax rate would be 8.5 percent, and the corporate rate would drop from 8.84 percent to 7 percent.
  • Molly Munger proposal to raise taxes across-the-board.

Much of this of course assumes that the problem is insufficient taxation. But California is not a low-tax state. Back in 2009 I pulled together some numbers. They might have changed slightly but the points are still relevant:
California is a high tax state. They are sixth highest in state-local tax burden as a percentage of state income. The sales tax is the highest state rate in the country even before the recent 1% increase, and numerous county rates keep them in the top 5 of state-local combined rates. Their individual income tax top rate is the second highest in the country, eclipsed only recently by Hawaii, and is sixth highest in the country in terms of collections. The corporate income tax is one of the highest in the country and sixth highest per capita in collections. Even the gas tax is the third highest in the countryand the state Lottery has the fifth highest implicit tax rate in the country. Only on property taxes is California "low": 28th highest in collections per capita.
The Tax Foundation's annual State Business Tax Climate Index evaluates tax structures for business-friendliness, and the 2009 edition ranked California 48th, or third worst. The individual income tax ranked second to last, corporate income tax ranked 45th, and sales tax ranked 43rd. (Property tax structure was a bright spot, ranking 15th in the country.)
With these comparisons, and the enormous growth in state spending, it's hard to say that California's problem is insufficient taxation. Ultimately, California voters need to decide whether they are willing to pay the taxes to fund the programs they want. The tax system prevents this from happening now, due to the state's overreliance on taxing capital gains, corporations, and high-income earners. Most Californians rightly think additional spending is a free lunch that they won't have to pay for.