According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent of Americans paid 33.4 percent of their expanded cash income (a broad measure of pretax income) in federal taxes. Middle class Americans—or those in the middle 20 percent—pay 13.7 percent of their income to federal taxes, while the poorest pay 3.1 percent.
So far, it doesn't appear that any study has looked at the combined federal, state and local tax burdens as a share of certain income groups. But Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center said that combining all taxes would almost certainly show that the wealthy pay more than the rest.
Read MoreHere's where millionaires are pouring money
"Looking at state and local taxes gives you one picture of the impact of taxes," Williams said. "But you can't look at them in isolation."
The second problem with looking purely at state and local taxes is that taxpayers can deduct state and local taxes from their federal taxes. So some of that tax burden shifted to the middle and lower class at the state level is given back by the federal government. The federal tax system, in other words, rebalances or cancels out some of the regressive structure of the state and local taxes.
"There is an interaction between the federal, state and local systems," Williams said. "The federal system offsets some of the regressiveness of the state level."
In other words, saying the tax system is upside down based on state and local taxes is like studying the estate tax or mansion tax and saying millionaires pay all the taxes in America.
Read MoreA surprising ally in minimum-wage fight: The rich
Nobody pays just one tax. Most Americans pay them all, and deduct or offset some from others. And when you look at the tax system as a whole, the rich pay more.
Does that mean the rich should pay more, or that the system is fair?
"That's subjective," Williams said. "To some people, we should have a flat tax. Others say we're not nearly progressive enough."
But any analysis of "fairness" should include the whole tax system, not just one part of it.