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PolitiFact Florida: Yes, Florida has the second-lowest state taxes per capita

By Allison Graves, Times Staff Writer
Gov. Rick Scott brought up state taxes during a roundtable.

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 a 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.

Almost all credible analyses of Florida's tax burden have the Sunshine State paying some of the lowest taxes per capita in the country.

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 Bureau, was about 20.6 million. Do the math, and that's a little more than $1,800 in taxes collected per person, or capita.

Scott's office pointed us to the Tax Foundation, a think tank that generally has a probusiness leaning. Using the most recent data from the Census Bureau, 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 Census Bureau 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 TaxWatch, 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.

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 does not 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 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.

We rate Scott's statement Mostly True.

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