California voters are often asked to make important tax and spending decisions at the ballot box, yet their mastery of basic fiscal facts is poor. PPIC’s surveys have consistently found a “knowledge gap” between what voters know and budget realities. In our January PPIC survey, just 8 percent of likely voters correctly named both K-12 public education and the personal income tax as the top state spending and top state revenue areas. The voters failed to grasp the state’s budget details even when the fiscal crisis took center stage and California grappled with massive deficits, spending cuts, and tax increases.
But survey respondents just passed another fiscal pop quiz with high marks. With the April 15 tax deadline approaching, seven in 10 likely voters in the March PPIC survey say that California currently ranks “near the top” (45%) or “above average” (26%) in state and local tax burden per capita compared to other states. Large majorities gave this response in earlier PPIC polls. In this area, the public’s perceptions are in line with fiscal reality.
California’s tax ranking varies depending on data and methods, but we are always on the high side in national studies of the 50 states. Recently, California ranked #4 in the Tax Foundation report and #15 in the Tax Policy Center report on state and local tax burdens. The reasons include our high cost of living and the public investments that we are making in our education system, environmental quality, and infrastructure.