Image: Waikiki beach in Honolulu
Jewel Samad  /  AFP - Getty Images
Tourists enjoy sunbathing, boating and swimming at Waikiki beach in Honolulu. They may not enjoy paying high taxes as the state collects $5,606.70 annually for every taxpayer.
updated 3/29/2010 7:47:39 AM ET 2010-03-29T11:47:39

Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and tropical fare. Another trait: an enormous tax burden.

Hawaii earns the most in tax revenue per taxpayer out of any state in the Union. High-income Hawaiians shoulder the brunt of it — 11 percent for incomes over $200,000. Since the state has some of the country's highest earners, that amounts to significant outlays of cash.

All told, the state collects $5,606.70 annually for every taxpayer. That's not to say all of Hawaii's revenue comes from locals — visitors contribute plenty to the coffers as well.

But you don't have to sport a lei to feel similarly burdened. In nine other states some combination of sales, property, income and other miscellaneous taxes is significantly higher than average.

Behind the numbers
To find out where individuals are likely to pay the most in taxes, we started with the most recent full year of data available on state tax revenues from the U.S. Census Bureau, September 2008 to September 2009. We eliminated any taxes that were not paid largely by individuals, such as business licenses and taxes on public utilities, which left us with the total amount states earned from income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, hunting and fishing licenses and taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gas, among other goods. We then divided that number by the number of people aged 16 or older in each state that have earnings, to get a metric of tax revenue per taxpayer that excluded children and those who paid no income tax.

Because taxes paid to states don't all come from state residents (for example, tourists and commuters contribute to sales and gas taxes), this list doesn't measure the average resident's tax burden. But it does illustrate which states make the most money from taxation and, therefore, where it's most likely that residents are more heavily taxed.

By and large, you can expect that treatment if you live in America's Northeast: States there take half the spots on our list.

In Connecticut, Vermont, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, total taxes run between $4,331.11 and $5,464.59 per taxpayer annually. As to what drives up state tax revenues on the Eastern Seaboard, the story varies by state.

New Jersey residents tend to complain loudly about property taxes (theirs are the highest in the nation), but the state doesn't collect them — local municipalities do. Yet even without real estate taxes, the state still pulls in $4,475.26 per taxpayer.

In Vermont, among other levies, the state collects $167.46 per year, per taxpayer, for alcohol purchases — the 10th-highest booze tax in the country. Connecticut taxpayers, however, may simply have more expensive tastes.

"In Connecticut it tends to be about the preferences for goods," says Kail Padgett, an economist for the Tax Foundation, a think tank that researches tax policy. "The people of Connecticut might just want and vote for better services, more parks, more schools." The state's income taxes on individuals are the highest in the country, at $3,145.82 collected per person.

But not all Northeastern locales can complain about the state's hand in their wallet: New Hampshire comes in next-to-last on our list. The Live Free or Die State allows its residents to live completely free of income tax.

"New Hampshire tends to be relatively frugal," says Padgett. "They don't demand a large number of services."

Spreading the burden
Taxing high-income workers may seem an easy way for states to boost revenue, but it can backfire. Maryland made it into our top ten in part through substantial income taxes. But its 2008 effort to boost state coffers by taxing millionaires, just led the millionaires to defer capital gains or find other ways around it.

"In Maryland, when they implemented the millionaires' tax, people changed their behavior," says Padgett. "You can take all your stock options and move to Florida, and cash them out where there is no income tax."

Alaska comes in dead last on our list, but consider that it's you, not Alaskans, who helps fatten the state's purse. Corporate mining interests pay the state huge levies on oil and coal extraction. That burden gets passed on to taxpayers across the country in the form of gas tax.

"Whenever I drive my car, I pay slightly a higher price of gas that has been factored into severance taxes that Alaska earns," says Padgett. It's a fact that blurs the line between corporate and individual taxes, since even the taxes the big companies pay eventually get passed down to the consumer. "All taxes are individual taxes," says Padgett.

© 2012


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 3.79%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.69%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 13.83%
Cash Back Cards 17.80%
Rewards Cards 17.18%