When measured as a percent of state residents’ personal income, the combined state and local government tax burden of New York State and, in particular, New York City is uniquely high compared with other states. Reputedly high-tax states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and California aren’t even close. The only states where the tax burden is higher than, or even close to, New York are large, low-population states with extensive tax revenues from oil, gas, or other mineral production: Alaska, Wyoming, and more recently North Dakota, where a “fracking” boom has given way to bust. In these states residents and other businesses pay little in taxes – in Alaska they actually get checks. The Census Bureau data for FY 2004 to FY 2014 shows New York’s tax burden rising further, even as the average U.S. state and local tax burden remained close to 10 percent of personal income, about where it has been for decades. And yet all one hears in New York’s media is demands for still higher funding, and higher taxes, and higher staffing, and higher pay, and richer pensions made by New York’s public employee unions and the politicians they control, particularly in those in the New York State Legislature.
While the U.S. average is stable, the data shows a divergence among states. In many other states with above average state and local tax burdens in FY 2004, those burdens also increased further by FY 2014. And in many states where the tax burden was already below average in FY 2004 it fell even further, even in the face of soaring pension costs that have pressured state and local government budgets throughout the country. In several Midwestern states – Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan – the tax burden fell from somewhat above average as a percent of income to average or somewhat below, despite weak per capita income growth. In these aging states, public spending on seniors is rising, not only through federal programs that our current President has promised to protect (and his party has promised to protect for current beneficiaries but not younger generations), but also for the pensions and benefits of retired public employees. So the shrinking tax burden just adds to the downward pressure on other state and local government services, which benefit other age groups. What do those three states, plus Pennsylvania which has a below average tax burden despite soaring pension costs, have in common? A spreadsheets, further commentary and charts follow.