One of the stupider arguments in the comment threads and elsewhere against implementing a state income tax—especially a high-earners income tax on millionaires—is that if we tax the wealthy, they’ll all move out of state.
Huh. Really? To where? Across the border to Idaho, where the top bracket is currently 7.8 percent? Or perhaps we’ll see economic refugees pouring into Oregon, seeking shelter under its 9 percent top rate? Or maybe nearby Montana at 6.9% or California at a whopping 10.3%.
In fact, apart from Washington, there are only six other states with no income tax—Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Texas and Florida—all either unbearably hot or unbearably cold for much of the year. So it’s hard to image that a top rate of between 1 and 5 percent would be enough impetus to prompt the wealthy—who have the luxury of affording to live whereever they please—to pick up and leave our temperate clime, natural splendor and vibrant cultural scene for, say, Sioux Falls or Las Vegas.
Even maintaining a second home for tax purposes doesn’t make much economic sense when you look at the actual numbers across a range of incomes. For example, under the Kohl-Welles plan, a family earning $2 million a year would pay an additional $10,000 in state taxes, and the higher you go up the income scale the less the marginal utility of the money paid. Meanwhile, extending the tax downward to the lower income wealthy, while having more of a real-world impact, hardly costs them enough money to make a move financially worthwhile when a family earning $300,000 might pay only an additional $1,000 annually.
But in fact, I think even this analysis misses the point. In general, the wealthy aren’t as inherently selfish as some on the right suggest, and neither are they purely economic animals who make every decision according to the bottom line… both notions that put the most vocal critics of an income tax squarely in the philosophical camp of Karl Marx.
Humans are incredibly complicated creatures, and money is far from our only motivation. Some moved to our state for jobs, some for the music scene, some for nearby access to recreation and wilderness. (I moved here for love, and stayed because this is my daughter’s home.) To argue that a person earning $10 million a year, who chose to set down roots in our region for any number of reasons, would simply pick up and move his family to Texas to save a mere $90,000 in taxes a year, is absolutely ridiculous.
Furthermore, it is based on the false assumption that the wealthy as a group have no sense of social obligation and no understanding of or gratitude for the public investment that helped make their wealth possible, and that helps to protect and maintain both their property and their quality of life. Look at the Seattle precinct maps from the last time an income tax was on the ballot and you’ll see that the measure did best amongst those who were being asked to raise their taxes the most. In reality, it is the Frank Blethens of this world who are the exception to the rule, not ultra-wealthy fair-tax advocates like Warren Buffet and William Gates Sr.
Thus when Republicans and their surrogates insist that an income tax—any income tax—would drive wealth and jobs from our state, they show an incredible amount of disrespect for the integrity and intelligence of the wealthy, who for the most part, would be willing to pay a little more of their fair share, if they can be convinced the money would be put to good use.