Unlike Trump, California Pays Its Taxes

Nope, the Golden State isn’t blowing “tremendous amounts” of free federal money.


Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

During an alternative-fact-filled interview with Bill O’Reilly on Sunday, President Donald Trump launched into a diatribe about California pushing back against his immigration policies, suggesting that he would try to cut off the Golden State’s federal funding. “We give tremendous amounts of money to California,” he said. “California in many ways is out of control, as you know.”

Assuming that Trump was speaking on behalf of the federal government, he was, in fact, correct that “we” give lots of money to California. Annually, the feds spend nearly $368 billion in California, which includes everything from paying government contracts to cutting Social Security checks. Yet implicit in Trump’s comments was the assumption that Californians are gobbling up or blowing through “tremendous amounts” of government spending without paying their fair share in return. That’s wrong.

An accumulation of data from various sources shows that California routinely pays more in federal taxes than it receives in federal spending. A 2015 study by the New York state comptroller found that in 2013 Californians paid $9,086 per capita in federal taxes and received $9,040 per capita in federal spending—or about 99 cents of spending for every tax dollar. (This is an improvement: The Tax Foundation found that California received about 78 cents in spending for every tax dollar in 2005, and Census and IRS data showed the state getting back 87 cents on the dollar in 2010.) In comparison, the average state gets about $1.29 in federal money for every dollar it sends to Washington.

California pays about 13 percent of all federal taxes and receives about 11 percent of federal expenditures. It’s one of 11 states with a deficit between what it pays the feds and what it gets back. New Jersey has the biggest annual gap between spending and taxes, at more than $2,600 per person. New Mexico enjoys the biggest surplus, at more than $7,700 per person.

Here’s how all the states stack up in terms of federal taxes paid and spending received.

States pay a wide range of taxes per capita. Connecticut pays nearly $14,000 per person, while Mississippians pay about $4,800 apiece.


Federal spending by state also varies widely. Swamp-adjacent Virginia gets more than $16,800 per person. (Washington, DC, itself brings in a whopping $65,000 per resident.) Arid Utah, on the other hand, gets just $7,000 per person per year.

Meanwhile, there remains insufficient data to calculate how much Trump has paid in taxes relative to the tremendous amounts of benefits he has received from the federal government.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend