Epstein on Mickelson Tax Saga

America’s Favorite Golfer Gets Fleeced
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
February 5, 2013

The golfer Phil Mickelson, who often has his name in the sports pages for his athletic feats, has recently grabbed the headlines for an unconventional reason—he has politely protested California’s new maximum tax rate of 13.3 percent. For Mickelson, who pulls down $45 million per year, that tax generates about $6 million in added revenues for a cash-hungry California; he can then deduct 40 percent of that $6 million in California taxes from his federal income tax. That tax two-step leaves him about $3.6 million short. In exchange, he gets little if anything from California in return.

Mickelson quickly came under attack from powerful political forces that regard the payment of high taxes as one of the solemn duties of citizenship. Of course, he was only saying aloud what other professional athletes were thinking quietly—but prudence then took over. Athletes over their lifetimes can easily earn more from their endorsements than they can for success in competition, so they have to keep a low profile lest they offend any significant group of potential customers.

Mickelson downplayed his public broadside on the ground that financial matters are personal issues only. He of course knows full well that many prudent athletes have followed Tiger Woods in moving to Florida precisely because it has no income tax. Instead, Florida relies on a combination of sales and property taxes to fund its public operations.

Richard A. Epstein