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Democratic candidate Sue Bell Cobb made a bold claim about the poor state of Alabama’s budget at the governor’s debate on April 24, 2018.
Cobb, former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, was responding to a moderator’s question about whether she would consider raising taxes. Cobb said she would present the Legislature "a modest but adequate increase in our fuel tax" to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure.
"Alabama is operating government on the lowest amount of tax revenue of any state in the nation, which is why we’re lagging behind our sister southern states," she said.
Our fact-checker ears perk up with superlatives like this one. For this fact-check, we wanted to answer whether Alabama has the lowest amount of tax revenue in the United States.
We found it does.
Alabama ranks 51st out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for state and local tax collections per capita. In fiscal year 2015, the latest year for which Census data was available, Alabama collected $3,141 per capita.
"You’ll notice that Alabama comes in dead last in total per-capita tax collections," said Cobb campaign manager Landon Nichols.
The highest? The District of Columbia at $10,605 per capita.
Richard Auxier, a research associate at the Tax Policy Center, doubted rankings would change much with 2017 numbers. He agreed with the per-capita measurement for state-by-state comparisons.
Alabama ranks toward the bottom by other revenue measurements, too.
When you count only state taxes, Alabama ranks 41st with $2,041 per capita. That was in fiscal year 2016.
Taxes aren’t the only way states raise revenue. In terms of own-source revenue — which includes highway tolls, state university tuition, public hospital payments and other fees and transfers in addition to taxes raised by Alabama — the state ranks 44th.
And when we looked at the gas tax, which Cobb suggested raising, Alabama ranks 37th, according to the Tax Foundation.
In a 2016 study, the Tax Policy Institute found Alabama’s total tax revenue is below average. The reason is a combination of low wealth levels and relatively low taxes.
By household median income, Alabama ranks 46th. While Alabama has a low top-income tax rate, sales taxes are relatively high.
As Cobb suggested, total tax revenue falls short. The Tax Policy Institute study found that to fund spending programs following national averages, Alabama would need $9,092 per capita.
Cobb said, "Alabama is operating government on the lowest amount of tax revenue of any state in the nation, which is why we’re lagging behind our sister southern states."
Alabama indeed fell last in per-capita tax collections for state and local taxes. It ranked toward the bottom in other measurements of government revenue, not the very bottom.
With that additional information, we rate this statement Mostly True.
Reckon AL, Debate, April 24, 2018
Interview with Landon Nichols, Sue Bell Cobb campaign manager, April 30, 2018
Interview with Richard Auxier, research associate at the Tax Policy Center, April 30, 2018
Interview with John Buhl, Media Relations Manager for the Tax Foundation, April 27, 2018
TaxFoundation.org, Facts and Figures, 2018
Parcalabama.org, How Alabama Taxes Compare, December 2017
Urban.org, Assessing Fiscal Capacities of States, March 2016
TaxFoundation.org, State gasoline tax rates, Jan. 27, 2017
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