Sightline has developed a new pair of maps—here and here—that illustrate quite nicely the fairness of tax systems in the 50 states.

In the map below, states are color coded according to the tax burden shouldered by the state’s poorest families. The reason Washington is bright red—the brightest red of any state—is that the poorest 20 percent of Washington’s families pay 17.3 percent of their income in state taxes. It’s by far the highest amount in the nation.

poorest state taxes

See the animated data-rich version: The Poorest Families: How much do they pay in state taxes?

  • By contrast, the wealthiest families have a nice little tax haven in Washington compared with other states. In the map below, states are color coded according to the tax burden on the highest-earning 1 percent of families in the state. The reason Washington is so pale is because the wealthy in the Evergreen State pay so little in state taxes—just 2.6 percent, which is less than their peers in all but a handful of states.

    wealthy state taxes

    Again, don’t just glance at the map I’ve included here. Go check out the animated version, which comes complete with numbers and everything: The Wealthiest Families: How much do they pay in state taxes?

    Thinking about tax fairness is apropos for voters in most every state this year. In Washington, for example, voters will weigh in on a range of ballot measures that affect the structure of state taxes. Chief among these is Initiative 1098, which would levy an income tax on very high income earners, allow modest reductions to taxes on property and small businesses, and provide new revenue for state services like education and health care. The measure will not do much to reduce the tax burden on the poorest families in the state, but it does provide a good opportunity to improve the state’s discussion of tax policy—not to mention basic economic fairness.


    Notes: The maps were created by Sightline based on data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which produces a detailed distributional analysis for each of the 50 states. ITEP’s calculations factor in sales and excise taxes, property taxes, income taxes, offsets from federal taxes, and other state-specific features.