Forty-five states have regressive tax systems that exacerbate income inequality, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). When tax systems rely on the lowest-income earners to pay the greatest proportion of their income in state and local taxes, gaps between the most affluent and the rest of us continue to grow.

These are findings from the sixth edition of Who Pays: A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States. The report confirms that no two state tax systems are the same and includes a detailed analysis by state and baseline data for policy development. Highlights from the report excerpted below: 

  • Most State and Local Tax (SALT) systems are inequitable and upside-down, taking a much greater share of income from low- and middle-income families than from wealthy families.
  • The lower one’s income, the higher one’s overall effective SALT rate. The lowest-income 20% of taxpayers face a SALT rate more than 50% higher than the top 1% of households. 
  • Tax structures in 45 states exacerbate income inequality by making incomes more unequal after collecting SALT.
  • In the 10 states with the most regressive tax structures, the lowest-income 20% pay up to six times as much of their income in taxes as their wealthy counterparts.
  • The most regressive state tax systems rely heavily on sales and excise taxes.
  • The least regressive state tax systems are characterized by progressive graduated income taxes. States with the most equitable SALT systems derive, on average, more than one-third of their tax revenue from income taxes, which is above the national average of 27%.
  • States commended as low-tax are often high-tax for low- and middle income families. The 10 states with the highest taxes on the poor are Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.
States in order of rank from least equitable to more equitable (Source: ITEP)
Washington14 Louisiana27 Georgia40 Utah
Texas15 Hawaii28 Missouri41 Oregon
Florida16 New Hampshire29 Connecticut42 Maryland
South Dakota17 North Dakota30 Massachusetts43 Montana
Nevada18 Alabama31 North Carolina44 New York
Tennessee19 New Mexico32 Rhode Island45 Maine
Pennsylvania20 Arkansas33 Virginia46 New Jersey
Illinois21 Iowa34 Wisconsin47 Minnesota
Oklahoma22 Michigan35 Colorado48 Delaware
10 Wyoming23 Kansas36 Nebraska49 Vermont
11 Arizona24 Mississippi37 West Virginia50 District of Columbia
12 Indiana25 Kentucky38 Idaho51 California
13 Ohio26 Alaska39 South Carolina

See all findings at ITEP, Who Pays: A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States

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Judy Vorndran can be reached at or 720.227.0093. Follow Judy on LinkedIn.

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