Why Is Phil Mickelson So Tee’d Off About Taxes?

(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on January 24, 2013 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-herbst/teed-off-about-taxes_b_2545535.html.)

In his second inaugural, President Obama called upon us to rededicate ourselves to the nation’s enduring values — freedom and equality, and squaring those ideals with reality — by rebuilding our country and its infrastructure, so that the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness will not be limited to the few who can buy them for themselves, but to the many, to “we the People.” As Obama said, “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few.”

We are now hearing from one of the privileged few, Phil Mickelson, one of golf’s greatest. I have always liked Mickelson, a southpaw who had to struggle against adversity, albeit of his own predilection for choking, for many years before winning his first major tournament. Ultimately, of course, he learned to control his demons on the golf course, and now makes $47 million a year, and $43 million from endorsements in 2012. His biggest corporate endorsement payments come from KPMG, ExxonMobil, Titleist, Ford, Enbrel, Callaway, Rolex and Barclays. I thought he was living a happy and fulfilling if not charmed life, notwithstanding some serious medical issues that, from his TV ads and publicity, have afflicted him and his family. Among the conservative inhabitants of that individualistic world of golf professionals, Mickelson seemed to be among the most grateful for the opportunity this country had given him to develop and exploit his talent to the full, and a net worth estimated at $150-80 million, a $6 million estate in Rancho Santa Fe and a $60 million Gulfstream.

What a surprise then, to see Mickelson’s cri de cœur in the paper today. A resident of Southern California, he told the press yesterday that the nation’s new taxation framework just “doesn’t work for me right now.” What doesn’t work? His income above a million is now subject to federal taxes of 39.6 percent and California’s new millionaires’ tax rate of 13.3 percent for a total above 50 percent, perhaps as much as 60 percent if you add in social security and disability taxes. He is going to take “drastic steps,” so far unidentified, but speculation is that he is planning on moving out of California, or the United States entirely so that he can avoid his tax obligations.

I have a cri de cœur of my own: Phil, say it ain’t so! Let’s assume you can’t find good tax advice and have to pay full freight, and that your $150-80 million throws off only a pittance in tax-favored dividends and capital gains. Forty percent of $46 million is almost $18.5 million. Forty percent of $60 million is $24 million. Seems more than enough to feed your family, support your lifestyle and keep your private jet in the air.

Coming on the day of the president’s stirring inaugural, your complaint sounded a discordant, indeed sour note. Listen to some of the things the president said: “A great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” Phil, just imagine if your wife and mother had to fight breast cancer without health insurance or access to good medical care. Don’t you want to help make sure that no one in America faces that misfortune?

“No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.” Phil, repairing our deteriorating infrastructure, educating our kids and preparing for a future of good jobs in new competitive industries and services will cost trillions, and if our richest and most accomplished citizens do not lead the way and help pay for it, who will?

“Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” Phil, we have a shrinking and increasingly stressed middle class whose earning power has actually declined since the 1970s. Many Americans are barely making it. Don’t you want to help do what you can? Remember President Kennedy’s words? “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” Don’t you agree?

And finally, “We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

Phil, you are beloved by millions of Americans who have admired your achievements. Don’t just be a taker. Help America keep its commitment to all of its people and their posterity. Rejoice in your extraordinary ability to contribute to our national renewal, and do it without any hesitation or mental reservation. Be a great American — and rejoice rather than grumble that you can afford it.

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