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Fear Not, Phil Mickelson

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Dear Phil,

I’ve always felt a certain kinship to you because we’re both California residents. I realize we don’t run into each other much, since I drive the roads (you fly yourself everywhere by private jet) and eat at In N’ Out (you’re a Five Guys guy). But it was nice to know you were nearby, in San Diego County, paying basically the same taxes that anyone who makes more than $47,000 a year or so does.

So I felt a bit hurt when you declared during last week’s golf tournament in La Quinta that you might be leaving our fair state. And I was puzzled when I heard the reason: taxes.

Specifically, you claimed that increases in federal and California income tax rates on the rich would force you to rearrange your life – and presumably move to a state without income taxes.

I’m writing to let you know that you shouldn’t worry, for a number of reasons.

First, you’re complaining about relatively small changes in rates – about three percentage points each at the state and federal level. You can make up what you’re losing by making more short putts and hiring a better accountant. And the list of states without income taxes isn’t exactly attractive. Texas is too hot. Washington is too rainy. Nevada is too trashy. And as we Californians who were educated in the post-Prop 13 schools know well, Alaska and South Dakota are actually in Canada.

Yes, there is Florida, where so many of your fellow golfers live. But be careful here. The last time a great golfing champion left Southern California for the boredom of Orlando, his life turned into a Carl Hiaasen novel. If you ask Tiger, he can tell you that divorce is a lot more expensive than California income taxes.

And even if you leave, you’re still going to have to pay California taxes when you play in California tournaments. Or is it your intention to skip those too? That could mean missing a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where it’s played every few years, but then again, you never win the Open anyway.

There’s another thing you’re missing. This tax increase is temporary. It goes away in 7 years. And that timing is actually perfect for you. You turn 43 this year, and that’s an age when golfers begin to decline. Your results suggest that you’re decline is underway. All of which means that you may have less in tournament winnings and endorsements for California to tax.

The good news is that at age 50, you’ll join the Senior Tour, and you’ll probably start winning again. And that’s precisely when this tax goes away.

But you’re not willing to admit that you’re in decline. You say you love pressure and challenges. So why quit now on California?

With regards, your fellow Californian (and 18 handicapper on a good day),

Joe Mathews

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