The Washington Post

Celebrate tax day with 9 of our favorite tax maps

Taxes play a major role in American policy. So, in honor of tax day, we compiled some of our favorite tax maps below.

The maps don’t tell the comprehensive story of taxes in America, but they do reflect the range of ways taxes touch our lives. They can promote work, alter behavior and have both positive and negative unintended consequences. In short, taxes are powerful.

Taxes are also essential to states. State governments—battered by the severe recession—collected more than $846 billion in tax revenue in the last fiscal year, the highest amount ever reported, according to Census data released last week. All but two saw revenue grow, as the graphic below shows. The maps follow.

(Read more: Rebounding economy fills state coffers with record tax revenues)

Tax burdens can vary substantially state by state

State and local tax burden as a share of income. (Tax Foundation)

The folks at the free market-oriented Tax Foundation use a simple method in the map above to calculate tax burdens: divide a state’s total revenues by the total income of it’s residents. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut collect the most taxes, as a share of resident income, they found. (The tax burden in all three is roughly 12 percent of income.)

Residents of Wyoming, Alaska and South Dakota carried the lightest relative load, with total revenues accounting for roughly 7 percent of resident income.

(Read more: Release of Annual State-Local Tax Burdens Rankings)

The property tax burden is greatest in the Northeast, Midwest and Texas

Average property tax as a share of home price, 2007-2011. (Urban Institute)

The above map, from the Urban Institute, similarly seeks to measure the property tax burden as a share of home price. Counties in the Northeast, parts of the Midwest and Texas tend to have a higher property tax burden. In other words, property taxes in those parts of the country are higher relative to home prices.

(Read more: Property taxes in the United States)

A tax break that members of both parties can get behind

The map above shows White House estimates of the impact of expanding the earned income tax credit, a break aimed at the poor. More than 13 million low-income childless workers would benefit from the expansion proposed last month by President Obama.

It’s an interesting plan and one embraced by people of both parties. The president and his fellow Democrats argue that the federal government should both raise the minimum wage and expand the tax break. Republicans, meanwhile, say forget about hiking the minimum wage—which they argue is a job killer—and focus just on the tax break. Research has found it to be well-targeted, too.

(Read more: White House: Earned income tax credit could help 13.5 million)

The consequences of inconsistent state taxes

The maps below show the unintended consequences of tax policy. The first map shows how dramatically different state cigarette taxes are—they can range from as little as $0.17 to $4.35. The second map shows how that has created a sizable underground cigarette market in some states.

In high cigarette tax states such as New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut, huge shares of all cigarettes consumed are smuggled in from out of state. In New York, research shows more than half of all cigarettes are illegally imported. We love this map because it shows how interconnected state taxation regimes are and how such policies interact with one another.

(Read more: How state taxes promote an underground cigarette market)

(Tax Foundation)

(Tax Foundation)

Half the nation’s counties sell property tax bills to debt collectors

The map above sheds light on an important, but little-known practice among some local governments: selling debts that residents owe to third parties. The practice of selling old property tax bills to debt collectors was the focus of a multi-part Washington Post investigation at the end of last year—one that prompted the city to reform its ways. But it’s not a practice unique to D.C., as the map above shows.

“Local governments placed tax liens on more than 1.6 million properties nationwide last year, but tax collectors from Illinois to Florida to New Jersey acknowledge there are few safeguards in local laws to prevent the private investors who bought them from taking advantage of distressed homeowners,” The Post reported.

(Read more: Local laws do little to protect homeowners)

How states tax beer, wine and spirits

Alaska and Alabama tax booze the hardest—they’re the only states that claim a spot among the top five with the highest excise taxes each for beer, wine and spirits. The three maps below show the varying ways in which states approach such taxes.

(Read more: Alaska and Alabama are taxing booze hard)

Map: Beer Excise Tax Rates by State, 2014. (Tax Foundation)

Map: Wine Excise Tax Rates by State, 2014. (Tax Foundation)

Map: Spirits Excise Tax Rates by State, 2014. (Tax Foundation)


Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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