California is a high-tax state, with some of the steepest sales tax, personal income tax and corporate tax rates in the United States.
The California Tax Foundation publication “California Tax Facts: An Overview of the Golden State’s Tax Structure,” provides a comprehensive look at personal and business income taxes, sales and use taxes, property taxes, and other key sources of revenue.
For businesses seeking to create jobs for Californians by locating or expanding in the state, taxes can be a major obstacle. According to studies that provide federal rankings, California has the third-worst state business tax climate in the United States.
State Sales Tax: Highest in the Nation
California levies a 7.25 percent general sales and use tax, which is the highest statewide rate in the nation. Local governments are permitted to levy additional sales and use taxes, and the combined rate of the additional local taxes should not exceed 2 percent. However, some local governments have been given special dispensation to go above this cap. Click here for the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration’s detailed description of the statewide sales and use tax rate, and here for information on additional city and county sales tax rates.
Gasoline Tax: Highest in the Nation
California’s state excise on gasoline is 50.5 cents per gallon, the highest in the nation, as of July 2020. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s cap-and-trade auction increases the price of gasoline an additional 11 cents per gallon. The federal excise tax on gasoline adds another 18.4 cents per gallon to the cost at the pump.
Personal Income Tax: Highest in the Nation
California’s personal income tax has the highest top rate and one of the most highly progressive structures in the nation. California’s top rate is 13.3 percent (including the 1 percent surcharge for mental health programs, for all personal income taxpayers with taxable income over $1 million). Hawaii is second, with a top rate of 11 percent. Most small businesses are S Corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorships, and pay their business taxes at the rates for individuals, which makes California’s taxes on small businesses some of the most burdensome in the nation. Seven states do not impose a personal income tax.
Corporate Income Tax: Highest in the West
Those looking to expand or establish a business in California may resort to neighboring states, as California has the highest corporate tax rate in the Western U.S. at 8.84 percent. Only seven states have a higher top corporate tax rate than California (Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania).
Property Tax: High, Even Under Proposition 13
California’s high property values lead to high property taxes, even under Proposition 13, the 1978 voter-approved initiative that limits property taxes. Many California property owners also are required to pay costly parcel taxes. These are annual property taxes (not based upon the value of the property) imposed by many school districts, special districts and other jurisdictions.