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Gov. Rick Scott travels the state with a rap sheet of talking points laying out all he’s done to lower taxes — a topic, no doubt, on many Floridians’ minds ahead of Tax Day. (Tuesday!)
Scott launched into this list during a roundtable discussion in Pensacola on April 7.
"We’ve cut taxes 55 times. Our job growth rate is showing almost double the rest of the country. Our labor force is growing four times the rest of our county, and we have the second-lowest tax burden, per capita, state taxes in the country," Scott said.
We previously evaluated an earlier version of Scott's 55 tax-cut claim, rating a statement that he cut taxes "more than 40 times" as Half True.
We decided to focus here on whether Florida’s tax burden is the second-lowest in the land.
Florida taxes near the bottom of pack
According to the Florida Department of Revenue, the state collected about $38.6 billion in state and local taxes in fiscal year 2016. In 2016, Florida’s population, according to the U.S. Census, was about 20.6 million. Do the math, and that’s a little more than $1,800 in taxes collected per person, or capita.
Other estimates are close to our own.
Scott’s office pointed us to the Tax Foundation, a think tank that generally has a pro-business leaning. Using the most recent data from the U.S. Census, it found Florida collected $1,836 in per capita state taxes in fiscal year 2015.
That amount gives Florida the distinction of having the second-lowest state taxes per capita out of all 50 states.
Our own calculation, achieved by comparing the U.S. Census 2015 Annual Survey of State Government Tax Collections (the most recent year) to 2015 population data, also puts Florida as the place with the second lowest state taxes.
A slight wrench in Scott’s factoid is that state taxes are not the only type of taxes that Florida collects.
According to Florida Tax Watch, a group that takes a critical look at state spending, Florida ranked 27 out of 50 states for per capita local tax collections in fiscal year 2014.
Kurt Wenner, Florida TaxWatch vice president of research, said Florida’s local tax burden is far higher than the state’s tax burden.
Florida’s low state tax burden combined with a middle-of-the-road local tax burden still leaves Florida with some of the lowest taxes per capita. The same Tax Foundation analysis cited by Scott ranks Florida as having the fifth-lowest state and local taxes per capita.
Thinking beyond per capita
The problem with per capita figures is context, said Richard C. Auxier, a research associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
The per capita figure includes millions of people, namely children, who either pay no taxes or pay a nominal amount (the sales tax on a toy purchased with allowance money, for example).
It doesn’t mean that all Floridians pay low taxes.
For example, Florida’s lack of an individual income tax is good news for high earners. But low-income residents may feel more of a benefit with living in a state with a lower sales tax (Florida’s is 6 percent, which is about the 16th-highest rate in the country).
One more thing: A state’s tax burden is the result of many factors, not just the influence of one chief executive.
North Dakota had some of the highest taxes per capita in the latest fiscal year, but that’s not because North Dakota is a high tax state, it’s because the state experienced an oil boom which brought in more tax dollars that year than other years prior.
Scott said Florida has "the second-lowest taxes, per capita, state taxes of any state in the country."
Based on our own calculations, as well as a credible analysis from the Tax Foundation, Florida has the second-lowest state taxes per capita (behind Alaska).
When you include our middle-of-the-road local taxes, Florida still hovers around the bottom for per capita taxes, but it’s not the second-lowest. And it’s important to remember that just because a state’s per capita taxes is low, it doesn’t mean everyone in that state has low taxes.
Scott’s measurement is accurate but doesn’t quite tell the whole story. We rate Scott’s statement Mostly True.
Interview, Richard Auxier, a research associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, April 12, 2017.
Interview, Kurt Wenner, Florida TaxWatch vice president of research, April 12, 2017
Email exchange, Kerri Wyland, Communication director for Gov. Rick Scott, April 11
Tax Foundation, "Facts and Figures: How does your state compare?" 2017
Florida Tax Watch, "2017 How Florida Compares - Taxes."
Kaiser Family Foundation, State Government Tax Collections per Capita, accessed April 12, 2017
PolitiFact Florida, "Rick Scott: Average Floridian pays $1,800 in state taxes, lowest in country," March 3, 2015.
Florida Department of Revenue, State and Local Tax Receipts, accessed April, 12, 2017
U.S. Census Bureau, State Government Tax Collections, accessed April 12, 2017
U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates 2015, accessed April 12, 2017
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