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Overview of California Tax System

With over 35 million residents, California is ranked as the sixth largest economy in the world. It exhibits great demographic and economic variation and has various substantial demands in areas such as health care, education and infrastructure. Similar to other governments, California depends mainly on taxes to fund the public services. The California tax system is composed of a wide range of taxes that are managed and collected by different states and local agencies.

Tax plays a significant role in the state and local fiscal system of California.

Taxes levied in California: There are a number of taxes that are levied in California, such as state tax and local tax. The bank and corporation tax, personal tax, sales and use tax along with the major motor vehicle-related levies are the main sources of the own-source revenue of the state.
Around 80% of the state expenditure is supported by the sales and use tax, bank and corporation tax and personal income tax. Personal income tax is considered to be the largest single tax that accounts for over half of the entire General Fund revenues.

The remaining 20% of the total expenditure of the state is supported by special funds for certain allotted purposes, including more than half for transportation funded by motor vehicle-related levies. Many taxes such as taxes on tobacco and sales also go into special funds that support health programs and local governments, respectively. In addition to this, local tax revenues come from the property tax that is eventually followed by the local portion of the SUT, utility user charges, business license taxes, as well as other miscellaneous revenues. Local governments, especially counties also depend on the state aid.

Change in the Tax Structure: Over the years, the tax structure of California has changed tremendously. The fundamental elements of the current state tax system were put in place in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Before this, an insurance tax, fuel tax and utility tax used to raise the revenue of the state. Major fiscal disruptions that came along with the depression led to the adoption of both personal income tax as well as the state SUT.

Since then, the tax system in California has remained intact, despite a number of significant statutory and constitutional alterations. By far, the adoption of Proposition 13 in 1978 is considered to be one of the most important of these modifications. It has led to a considerable reduction in the property taxes and changed the state and local fiscal relations.

Adoption of Tax Laws and their modification: Statutory and constitutional are the general types of California tax provisions. Statutory tax provisions reside in the California Revenue and Taxation Code and accounts for a number of tax laws. The legislature or a voter-sponsored initiative can be used to place them on the ballot. A two-thirds vote of the legislature is needed for the application of measures that lead to a net increase in tax revenues. However, in other cases, a plain majority vote suffices. Only the subsequent votes of the people can alter the statutory tax provisions that are approved.

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