Power & Market

Orwell’s America

Orwell’s America

Those who have declared residency in another state cannot spend even a minute beyond the allowed time in either high tax New York or California. And, Big Brother is watching. George Orwell could not conger up a more diabolical tale than the Bloomberg story penned by Laura Nahmias and Eliyahu Kamisher.

“The minute you file a partial return you’re going to hear from New York state,” said Jonathan Mariner, who created TaxDay, an app that tracks users’ locations so they don’t overstay the threshold of days that would trigger residency status, which is typically 184 (for irony, slip a 9 in after the one).

So, for the really rich a misplaced day in New York (or on the other coast, California) can mean millions lost to the tax authority. How serious is this? Nahmias and Kamisher write, “state officials are stepping up already-intense scrutiny to make sure former residents have actually moved. It’s a complex operation that involves cutting-edge artificial intelligence and tracking everything from travel to the location of people’s pets.”

Those who earn a million dollars a year or more have been fleeing New York (top state tax rate 10.9%) in droves since 2019 and the state can’t do without the income tax these high-earners paid. Residency audits have been instituted. “New York’s auditors closely watch travel and apply a standard known as ‘the teddy bear test,’ looking to see where individuals keep their most cherished possessions to determine whether a home is their primary residence,” write the pair from Bloomberg

“I’ve had cases that have hinged on a single dog,” Mark Klein, a tax attorney at Hodgson Russ told Bloomberg, “And I had a case once that was based on the fact that the person moved their Peloton bicycle to Florida.”

Klein compares a New York tax audit to a colonoscopy. Except taxpayers remain awake, one supposes. 

The state of New York collected roughly $1 billion between 2013 and 2017 from 15,000 audits. The Bloomberg scribes say the Golden State is not as draconian as New York: Or in their words, “the scale and complexity of its residency audit operation” is not on a level with New York. But, California collected $85 million in residency audit income last year through November. The largest single-year tally in at least a decade. 

As in Orwell’s totalitarian superstate Oceania, time and history are manipulated in New York to create chaos and allow state manipulation. You’ve heard the expression “New York minute.” Well, now, state tax bureaucrats define a few hours as a New York day. If you stop for lunch while driving through the state, the taxing authority considers that a day. A quick visit to a doctor in NYC is counted as a day by the state taxing authority.

If you live in New York you are considered a resident for tax purposes, paying levies on income from every source, even those outside of the state. However, New York authorities consider someone a resident even if they don’t live there, as long as they’ve spent more than 183 days in New York and maintain a “permanent place of abode,” which could simply be a vacation home. 

“Even though you have a Florida driver’s license, Florida voting record, Florida home, it does not matter,” said Mariner, who created his app after facing his own residency audit after moving to the Sunshine State. “You could be on vacation in New York and they’ll pull you back in.”

There are 300 auditors chasing the rich for New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance and they are celebrated for their exhaustiveness.

 “Bank records, phone bills and family photos are under the microscope. Auditors are backed up by sophisticated artificial intelligence-fueled tax monitoring systems that flag inconsistencies in returns,” write the authors from Bloomberg. 

On the left coast, former California (top state tax rate 14.4%) tax auditor Chris Parker told Bloomberg, “People who moved to another state are not criminals because of their move, and yet they are regularly treated like such.”

“We are incredibly reliant on New York’s high earners for our income tax revenue,” Amanda Hiller, New York’s acting tax commissioner, told an audience of civic leaders. Ms. Hillier claims the state doesn’t know whether millionaires are leaving because of the state’s high tax rates. They are studying the matter closely!?

New York and California have become the dark dystopia Orwell described in 1984. Why does anyone stay?

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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