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Are California Taxes That High?

Are California’s taxes high? I was asked this question recently by a reporter with Politifact California. Assemblymember Travis Allen who is running for governor had stated that California had the highest taxes. His website says that California has the highest personal income tax and state sales tax rates. [Chris Nichols article of 7/11/17]

If just looking at the rate structure, those are correct statements. The Federation of Tax Administrators posts helpful and current tables of the PIT and sales tax rates among the states.

So far as the California personal income tax though, less than 5% of individuals are at the highest rate of 13.3%. Many Californians owe little or no state income tax because the exemptions in California are fairly high.

But, everyone pays the sales tax, directly and indirectly.

When a state has high tax rates, it is due to two possible reasons (and perhaps both at the same time):

  • A narrow tax base
  • Lots of spending

A narrow tax base is certainly the reason for California’s high sales tax rate. We only tax tangible personal property and then not even all of that. We tax almost no personal services, entertainment or digital goods. This also makes the tax system inequitable, non-neutral and inefficient because the exempt consumption tends to be that of higher income individuals.

What do you think?

California State Sales Tax Rate Breakdown. Most cities also have sales tax making the total rate higher, such as 9.25% in San Jose.



Annette Nellen, CPA, Esq., is a professor in and director of San Jose State University’s graduate tax program (MST), teaching courses in tax research, accounting methods, property transactions, state taxation, employment tax, ethics, tax policy, tax reform, and high technology tax issues.

Annette is the immediate past chair of the AICPA Individual Taxation Technical Resource Panel and a current member of the Executive Committee of the Tax Section of the California Bar. Annette is a regular contributor to the AICPA Tax Insider and Corporate Taxation Insider e-newsletters. She is the author of BNA Portfolio #533, Amortization of Intangibles.

Annette has testified before the House Ways & Means Committee, Senate Finance Committee, California Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee, and tax reform commissions and committees on various aspects of federal and state tax reform.

Prior to joining SJSU, Annette was with Ernst & Young and the IRS.

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2 thoughts on “Are California Taxes That High?

  1. Avatar TONY says:


  2. Avatar Frank says:

    So what if only 5% pay at the 13.3% rate? It is still confiscatory. The income tax base should be widened by lowering the exemption amount and doing away with the EIC.
    What CA is creating is an ever growing populace of takers with fewer producers, caused by politicians who are more than happy to spend other people’s money.

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