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Comparing state taxes

California, Florida, Illinois, NY, Texas

The fiscal conditions of US states vary quite a bit. Do they vary more by geography or over time? Let’s find out.

The first FRED graph above shows the total state tax revenue divided by the state population for five large states. (We don’t want 50 states on a single graph.) We divide by population because larger states obviously have more revenue and we must normalize that revenue per resident. In this view, taxes vary quite a bit across states. But what about over time?

To answer this question, we need to make sure we deal with inflation. Tax revenue may simply have increased because everything became more expensive. In our second graph, we take the first graph and divide it all by the consumer price index. In this view, we see tax revenue per capita tends to increase over time—with the exception of Florida, where it’s relatively stable.

But are these the right measurements? Indeed, incomes have increased as well, even after taking inflation into account. So our last graph divides tax revenue (per capita) by personal income (per capita). In this view, we see that revenue increases slightly in some states and decreases slightly in others. Nothing too dramatic.

A little more meaning behind the numbers: State taxes amount to 1-2% of personal income. Keep in mind that these are just state taxes. There’s also an array of taxes at local levels (county, town, school district, fire district, etc.) that may shift the “ranking” of states.

How these graphs were created: Search FRED for “state tax collections” and select any state. Below the resulting graph, look for the release table. In that table, select the states you want displayed and click on the “Add to graph” button. Now that you have a multi-series graph, use thew “Edit Graph” panel: Use “Edit Line 1” to add the series for the resident population of that state and apply formula a/b. Repeat for each line/state. You have the first graph. For the second graph, repeat by adding the CPI to each line and applying formula a/b/b. For the third graph, beyond the state tax collections, add state per capita personal income and apply formula a/b*1000.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

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