Why Derek Jeter and LeBron James Are Running for Florida

September 22, 2010 • Commentary
This article appeared in The New York Daily News on September 22, 2010.

The New York Yankees’ star shortstop Derek Jeter has become the latest to flee the Empire State as spendthrift state officials target the rich. Jeter put his 70th‐​floor, 5,425-square-foot Trump World Tower condo on the market for a reported $20 million. He had bought it in 2001, after signing a 10‐​year contract with the Yankees. He will now make his undisputed residence in Tampa, where a 30,875-square-foot, seven‐​bedroom mansion is nearing completion.

The reason for this move has little to do with his loyalty, or lack thereof, for New York. Rather, it’s likely a simple calculation: New York City is among the highest‐​taxed places in the U.S., including hefty state and city income taxes. Florida doesn’t have an income tax, so Jeter, whose contract pays him $18.9 million annually, will be able to save a bundle.

New York State tax officials have harassed Jeter for years, objecting to him filing tax returns that claimed Florida as his state of residence. They insisted that he had “immersed himself in the New York community” and that he had made “numerous statements professing his love for New York” — and therefore, they reasoned, he ought to pay New York’s income taxes.

Jeter will be a free agent at the end of this season, and he’s expected to sign a new contract assuring that he will finish his fabled career with the Yankees. Presumably, he’ll be able to rent a nice place for the days he visits New York. But otherwise, he will be in sunny Florida, thanks to taxes that punish the wealthy for living here.

According to the Empire Center research organization, over 1.5 million more people moved out of New York State in the past decade than moved in — a larger net loss than for any other state. Like Jeter, people moving out tend to earn higher incomes than people moving in. Again, like Jeter, most of the people who leave had lived in the New York City area — not in the economically depressed upstate regions. And finally, like Jeter, almost a third of outmigrants settle in Florida.

Two months ago, basketball superstar LeBron James made a similar decision. He decided to leave his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to play in Florida for the Miami Heat. People debated this decision from the perspective of James’s loyalty to his hometown team while forgetting that there were financial considerations, too. Ohio State University economist Richard Vedder noted how taxes probably figured in his decision: James was expected to make $100 million with a five‐​year contract in Miami, and because Florida doesn’t have an income tax, the estimated net present value of his tax savings is between $6 million and $8 million.

These cases offer a reminder of the futility of trying to soak the rich — something President Obama wants to do by letting the Bush tax cuts expire for high‐​income earners. These people typically have skills that are in demand around the country and often around the world. They can live practically anywhere without impairing their ability to earn a lot of money. And so they will move somewhere else that is glad to leave their bank accounts alone.

For example, Scottish actor Sean Connery lives in the Bahamas; English actor Roger Moore and English retailing entrepreneur Philip Green reside in Monaco, and American singer Tina Turner, Canadian singer Shania Twain, English singer David Bowie, German tennis star Boris Becker, German racing car driver Michael Schumacher and American businessmen — and former New York residents — Leonard and Ronald Lauder live in Switzerland. The Rolling Stones channel most of their royalty income through a Dutch company and carefully limit time spent in Britain because of taxes.

Moreover, capital can be transferred offshore electronically faster than you can say “higher taxes.” According to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. citizens and U.S.-based multinational corporations hold $18 trillion of assets offshore. Politicians complain some of that capital should be brought home to fund jobs in America, but if that happened, the IRS would impose a 35% tax, so the capital stays offshore.

The soak‐​the‐​rich issue involves some practical questions. Who’s more likely to create jobs — a rich person or a poor person? Who’s more likely to provide investment capital? Who’s more likely to serve as a lead donor for fund‐​raising? Do you really believe you’ll be better off by driving rich people somewhere else? If so, don’t expect to see Derek Jeter strolling through Central Park anytime soon.

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