As far as I know, California state has raised the tax withholding rates twice this year. The first was for payrolls starting from May 2009 and the second is for payrolls starting from November 2009. The latest increase is reported in this LINK.
If I remember correctly, the increase in May 2009 was due to the increase in the tax bracket from 9.3% to 9.55%. This led to the corresponding increase in withholding from 9.3% to 9.55%. This is a reasonable change (I am just saying that the change in withholding is logical; NOT that the increase in tax rate is in any way logical in a recession).
Above: Tax withholding rates (before 11/1/09)
Above: Tax withholding rates (from 11/1/09)
In the most recent increase, the withholding rate was increased by 10%. For most people, this increases the withholding from 9.55% to 10.505%. There is no logical reason behind this; the only reason for this was that the state government wants an interest free loan from the tax payers.
Below are some comments reported in the LA times regarding this change:
“Many families are sitting at their kitchen table wondering how they’re going to make ends meet,” said state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks). “At the same time, the state of California is taking a no-interest loan.”
Such temporary measures as the withholding tax increase don’t really fix the budget gap, “they just more or less hid it,” said Christopher Thornberg, a principal with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles. “I call it a fraud.”
But there is a way out of this:
Savvy taxpayers can get around the state’s maneuver by increasing the number of personal withholding allowances they claim on their employer tax forms, said Brenda Voet, a spokeswoman for the state’s Franchise Tax Board.
“People can get out of this,” she said, noting that most people would have to change their allowances through their employers. California’s budget leaders are banking on the hope that most won’t.
This is exactly what I did. I submitted the DE-4 form to slash my additional state tax withholding to zero and added the corresponding allowances as provided by the withholding guidelines. This will bring me very close to the 90%-mark for the amount of taxes to be withheld without paying an under-withholding penalty come April 15, 2010.
If you are in a situation to already receive a refund next year, take some time to update your withholding by completing the DE-4 form
For all you know, as it already happened this year, when it is time to get your refund, the state might not even have the money to pay you and you will get an IOU instead. I would rather owe the state money than the other way round.
 Sign the petition to repeal this additional withholding — No to Sacramento!