State (CA) Tax Audit Question

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Are state (CA) tax audits primarily triggered by IRS audits or states could also independently audit tax returns? 

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Yes to both questions.

I can't quantify, but a friend who worked at the CA FTB indicated a lot of his investigations followed IRS audits. But given differences in tax laws and focus areas, and the FTB being fairly assertive in their collection of tax dollars, they also originate their own audits a lot of the time (and then forward decision to IRS if results in higher taxes due).

Not terrible and only slightly click-baity article with some context:

It really depends. It's rarer for them to audit a federal number, but they have specific state modifications and rules that the IRS wouldn't and couldn't ever audit. Therefore, they have to have their own system in place selecting returns for audit. On top of that, CA is one of the most aggressive residency states. They audit residency status, nonfilers, etc. pretty regularly. This is something that the IRS wouldn't ever (or essentially ever) care about or see so the audits have to be initiated by the state.

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