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Gov. Jerry Brown wants to hit California's highest-income taxpayers with billions of dollars in new taxes, and is jousting with other groups with their own tax-the-rich measures over which, if any, will win voter approval.

But the number of Californians with $500,000-plus annual incomes declined dramatically from 2007 to 2009 as the state's economy stagnated, leaving fewer to tax, the California Taxpayers Association points out in a compilation of data from the Franchise Tax Board.

The latest FTB statistical report covers the 2009 tax year, and Cal-Tax points out that it listed just 98,610 California tax returns with adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more, down nearly a third from the 146,221 in 2007. Data for 2010 are not yet available.

Those 98,610 tax returns were just over a half-percent of the 14.6 million returns filed for 2009, but they accounted for 18.8 percent of the taxable income and 32 percent of the income taxes paid that year.

Economists believe that most of the decline reflects lower incomes, rather than an exodus of high-income taxpayers from the state, but there are no hard data on that point.

Expanding the 2009 sample to the top 1 percent (144,071) drops the cutoff to just under $400,000 a year in adjusted gross income. The one-percenters accounted for 21 percent of the taxable income that year and 35.5 percent of the taxes levied.

At one time, the top 1 percent of California taxpayers accounted for half of the state's income tax revenues but their incomes, tied to stocks and other capital markets, declined the most of any income class and currently, state officials say, they are believed to provide about 37 percent of the state's income taxes. That decline accounts for much, if not most, of the state's revenue declines in recent years.

Those with adjusted gross incomes of $400,000 or more paid $25.7 billion in state income taxes for 2007, but two years later, that had dropped to $12.3 billion. Their taxable incomes had declined from about $278 billion to $156 billion.



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