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Most Americans feel they pay too much in taxes, AP-NORC poll finds

NEW YORK (AP) — A majority of taxpayers feel they pay too much in taxes, with many saying that they receive a poor value in return, according to a new poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Two-thirds of U.S. taxpayers say they spend “too much” on federal income taxes, as tax season begins. About 7 in 10 say the same about local property taxes, while roughly 6 in 10 feel that way about state sales tax. Generally speaking, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to view taxes as unfair, to say they are paying too much in taxes, and to see taxes as a poor value.

The poll found that few U.S. adults have a high level of confidence that the institutions that ultimately use their tax dollars — whether the federal government or local school districts — spend those taxes in the best interest of “people like them.” But people tend to trust governing bodies closer to home with their tax dollars slightly more: 16% are extremely or very confident in their local school district, compared to 6% for the federal government.

Adults who are 60 and older are more likely than younger adults to perceive taxes, generally, as fair.

Chris Berry, a professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy who was involved in the creation of the poll, said that, overall, public opinion about taxes and trust in government has declined. He sees the poll results as partly reflecting increased political polarization but says the public has long typically trusted local government more than the federal government.

“One of the things you’ll hear said is, ‘There’s no Democratic or Republican way to collect the trash or pave the streets,’” he said. “We tend to think of local government as less partisan.”

Among those who pay federal income taxes, half say they would prefer having fewer government services if it meant reducing their bill. One-third would keep their taxes the same in exchange for the same services, and 16% would opt to increase taxes for more services.

Danny Velasquez, 39, a business manager and Democrat in Boston who answered the poll, said he trusts local government to spend his tax dollars better than the federal government.

Asked how he would prefer his federal tax dollars be spent, Velasquez said the government “spends too much on war-making” and that he'd prefer “national healthcare and investment in education.”

Only about 1 in 4 taxpayers say they get a good value from paying either federal income tax, state sales tax or local property tax. About 1 in 3 in each case say it’s a poor value, and roughly 4 in 10 say the value is neither good nor bad.

According to the poll, most U.S. adults say they find either federal income tax or local property tax “unfair,” and about half say the same about state income tax, sales tax, and the federal Social Security tax.

Loretta Mwangi, 60, a Democrat who lives in Baltimore, sees taxes as fair and said she doesn’t have strong criticisms of how the government allocates tax dollars. Mwangi, who suffers from chronic pain after years of working in warehouses and as a security guard, currently lives on disability benefits.

“They’re going by how much you’re making and taking a percentage based on that,” she said. “There could be more support for education and for the homeless — there are a lot of people under the bridges still.”

Relatively few U.S. adults say they understand how the amount they owe is calculated. Only about 2 in 10 U.S. adults say they understand "extremely" or “very well” how amounts are determined for their local property tax. About one-quarter say they grasp the calculations for federal income tax. About 3 in 10 say they comprehend how state sales tax is calculated.

Yoany Mesa, 40, a computer engineer and Republican in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said he doesn’t view the tax system as “equitable or transparent.”

He and his wife, Grettel, 34, an auditor for a dental insurance company, said they perceive the federal tax code as full of loopholes, especially for the wealthy.

“There are a lot of things you hear people with money are able to claim — an inside club. I think if certain people have dependents, they should be able to get credits,” Grettel Mesa said. During the pandemic, the couple had received expanded child tax credits, for example, they said, but that policy ended in 2022.

Mesa said she had also previously trusted her local government more to spend their tax dollars, but that their area has recently been experiencing frequent flooding and sewage overflow, which makes her question that budgeting.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure spending that seems to be going by the wayside,” she said. “The money was supposed to go towards fixing the sewage systems — so where is that money going?”

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The poll of 1,024 adults was conducted Dec. 14-18, 2023 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.