Jeff Bezos, the titan of e-commerce and one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet, says he is moving from Seattle to Florida.
He explains it is to be closer to his aging parents, but let’s face it — a guy like Bezos can hop on his private jet and fly south to Miami anytime he has a need or desire to get out of the hellscape that Seattle has become.
The truth is Washington state policies are driving businesses and billionaires out of Seattle’s urban core. Bezos won’t be the last to leave.
Billionaires are not the only ones unhappy with Seattle. Last week, the Seattle Times reported that 21% of Seattle young adults have been medicated for depression and anxiety.
In another recent survey, Seattle ranked No. 1 for the blues, with the percentage of adults having feelings of depression ranging from 41% to 48%. It’s the nation’s saddest city, and that’s saying a lot, considering Portland, Oregon’s collective melancholy just down Interstate 5.
How did this happen in a metropolis that seems to have everything? The Emerald City has exciting high-tech jobs, a great food scene, an arts community, boating, skiing, the great outdoors right out the back door, distinct neighborhoods and universities galore. It has the sixth-highest wages of any major city in America, right up there with Boston and San Francisco.
It also has a socialist-leaning government.
Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant calls for rent strikes and writes that “in addition to rent control, we also need to tax the rich, and big businesses like Amazon to fund a massive expansion of social housing (publicly- owned, permanently-affordable homes) and to fully fund homeless services.”
Bezos is not immune to socialist, anti-free-market policies, even though he lives in the distinctly elite neighborhood of Medina, along the eastern shores of Lake Washington. It’s a quiet enclave where Bill Gates has his primary residence, and where blocks of high-tech billionaires have made their homes.
Medina is a world away from the decaying downtown of Seattle, ruled by junkies and criminals. In Medina, every car that enters the neighborhood has its license plate recorded by camera. That license plate goes into a database and police are alerted if a ne’er-do-well enters the land of the did-quite-wells. The sign into Media reads, “You Are Entering a 24 Hour Video Surveillance Area.”
Nobody goes down Evergreen Point Road in Medina without being recorded by multiple cameras. The residents have purchased their safety.
Meanwhile, across the bridge in Seattle, workers who take trains and buses to work are inhaling air that has been heavily doused by meth and fentanyl. According to a recent university study, 100% of mass transit has detectable levels of meth in the air.
Over the past month, one man was shot and another knifed on the metro train known as the Link. Now security guards board at every stop and rotate through the cars, ensuring that passengers are safe, but also establishing that mass transit in Seattle needs so many guards that it’s hemorrhaging public funds. Fares will never keep up with that kind of overhead.
In the 30 years since Bezos founded Amazon in his Seattle garage, the city has collapsed under the weight of increasingly socialistic leadership that prioritizes equity over safety. Even Amazon as a company can’t take it – it is moving 2,000 employees from downtown to Bellevue, across Lake Washington.
Then there’s the tax burden in King County and Washington state in general.
Bezos and his vast wealth are targets of a new wealth tax that the Washington Supreme Court just upheld, which takes 7% from every sale of financial assets such as stocks and bonds, applying to those who have profits of more than $250,000.
After years of legal challenges, the “eat the rich” tax on the wealthy is happening. There is no doubt Bezos, with a net worth of $161 billion, took a cold, hard look at the realities of Washington state tax law. He stands to save billions over the coming decades in state taxes by using this one simple trick: Becoming a visitor in Washington State, rather than a resident.
Washington will net about $849 million from this new tax in the first year alone. Surely Bezos has accountants who can find a tax loophole or two, but at some point, the government skimming operation takes its toll, and the rich do have choices.
Defenders of the wealth tax say it is not an income tax at all, but an “excise tax.”
It’s a tax on those who earn a living through buying and selling of assets, which is the way many wealthy people do, indeed, make a living.
Bezos’ motivation is not that much different from Donald Trump’s, when he pulled up stakes from New York and became a Florida resident in 2019 for a better tax climate and year-round golf.
Alan Greenspan was spot on: “Whatever you tax, you get less of.” If you tax billionaires, you’ll have fewer of them to kick around during the next tax cycle. Washington State will be learning this lesson the hard way.
Suzanne Downing is the founder, past president, and current managing editor of Must Read Alaska.
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