Fox News and business network pundits loudly proclaim the wealthy pay all the taxes and poor people are grubbing off of them. What they're talking about are federal taxes, so that they can create their own fraudulent narrative about the federal deficit and spending. However, the working class is bludgeoned by state and local taxes, which drains them of all the resources they have to be the type of consumers this country needs in order to thrive.
Still and all, it's true that the federal income tax is indeed progressive. Conservatives are right about that—though it's not as progressive as it used to be, back before top marginal rates were lowered and capital gains taxes were slashed in half. But conservatives are a little less excited to talk about other kinds of taxes. Payroll taxes aren't progressive, for example. In fact, they're actively regressive, with the poor and middle classes paying higher rates than the rich.
And then there are state taxes. Those include state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and fees of various kinds. How progressive are state taxes?
Answer: They aren't. The Corporation for Enterprise Development recently released a scorecard for all 50 states, and it has boatloads of useful information. That includes overall tax rates, where data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that in the median state (Mississippi, as it turns out) the poorest 20 percent pay twice the tax rate of the top 1 percent. In the worst states, the poorest 20 percent pay five to six times the rate of the richest 1 percent. Lucky duckies indeed. There's not one single state with a tax system that's progressive. Check the table below to see how your state scores.
When you speak to average Americans they have no idea what real tax policy is because it's so complex, and easily repackaged into right wing talking points. I remember during the first tea party protest in Santa Monica there was a small business owner who was joining in because California raised fees on her business, so she was upset. I explained to her that THIS protest was about the federal government. She had no idea what I was talking about. She assumed Glenn Beck was right and Obama was taxing her into submission when in fact it was Arnold. The middle class is more concerned with their payroll tax—because that's what they survive on—than with the overall federal tax rates that affect the wealthy. To them, it's all the same. Many governors have been guilty of pillaging their treasuries to create tax breaks for businesses which then creates a major deficit. And guess who gets screwed? The little guy and union workers.