California legislators are advocating for legislation that would introduce a new tax on the state’s wealthiest residents, even if they have already relocated to another area of the country. The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Alex Lee, a progressive Democrat in the California State Legislature.
Lee’s bill would impose an additional annual 1.5% tax on individuals with a “worldwide net worth” over $1 billion, beginning as early as January 2024. As early as 2026, the bill’s threshold would drop, as individuals with a worldwide net worth over $50 million would also be hit with a 1% annual tax on wealth. Lee estimates that the proposal could raise about $22 billion in new revenue for the state.
In a post on Twitter, Lee noted that the bill is a way for the ultra-rich to pay their fair share. “The working class has shouldered the tax burden for too long. In CA, we’ve introduced #ACA3 + #AB259 to tax the ultra rich & invest in all Californians. The ultra rich are paying little to nothing by hoarding their wealth through assets. Time to end that,” Lee wrote in a post.
While exit taxes are not new in California, the bill includes provisions to create contractual claims tied to the assets of wealthy taxpayers who are unable to pay their annual wealth tax bill because the majority of their assets are not easily converted to cash. The bill would then require annual filings with the California Franchise Tax Board so the individuals can pay the wealth taxes they owe, even if they have already relocated to another state.
Steve Boultbee, a tax partner at Marcum LLP in San Francisco, told the San Francisco Business Times that the proposed tax appears to be a way to discourage residents of California from relocating to another state, especially before an initial public offering or other liquidity events. Boultbee noted that individuals such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk could be affected by the bill.
“You’re gonna have to have left four years before, or they’re going to conceivably get you for something. My first thought is that this could be an ‘Elon Musk provision’ since he moved to Texas,” the tax partner said.
Supporters of the legislation have argued that the funds it could collect from the state’s wealthiest could provide funding for key programs, such as schools, housing, and other social initiatives. Experts, however, have argued against the bill. Jared Walczak, vice president of state projects at Tax Foundation, noted in a statement to Fox News Digital that the bill would actually damage the state’s economy.
“The proposed California wealth tax would be economically destructive, challenging to administer, and would drive many wealthy residents — and all their current tax payments — out of state. The bill sets aside as much as $660 million per year just for administrative costs, more than $40,000 per prospective taxpayer, giving an idea of how difficult such a tax would be to administer.
“A wealth tax could be particularly destructive in California, home to so many tech startups, because the owners of promising businesses could be taxed on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of estimated business value that never actually materializes. Very few taxpayers would remit wealth taxes, but many taxpayers would pay the price,” Walczak added.
Patrick Gleason, vice president of state affairs at Americans for Tax Reform, also told the publication that the bill’s system to “get around” the problem of the wealthy leaving California by trying to “tax people even after they leave the state” is questionable at best, or unconstitutional at worst. It should be noted that previous studies have demonstrated that the top 1% of taxpayers in states such as New York and California actually contribute approximately 50% of state income taxes, just as highlighted by individuals such as Elon Musk in the past.
According to Forbes’ 2022 World’s Billionaires list, California remains home to the most billionaires in the country, with 186 living in the state. This is a decrease from the previous year’s count of 189. Despite this, several companies, such as McKesson, Oracle, Tesla, and Charles Schwab, have relocated their headquarters to Texas in recent years.
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