NJ Taxes to Blame for Richest Moving, Economist Says

New Jersey’s high taxes drive out wealthy residents, slowing the state’s recovery, said Charles Steindel, the state treasury department’s chief economist.

Property, income and estate taxes are the top reasons people leave, said Steindel, who released a study of federal tax data and a survey of financial advisers today at an economic forum in Trenton organized by the treasury department.

Governor Chris Christie, a first-term Republican, has twice vetoed measures sponsored by Democrats that would have raised income taxes on residents earning $1 million or more. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the state’s highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker, said last week his party would push again for passage of a so-called millionaire’s tax.

“There is a relationship between state tax rates and where people move,” Steindel, a former senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, told reporters. “The higher tax-rate states generally lose more people every year.”

Steindel released the results of a survey of subscribers to the state’s online newsletter, which includes financial advisers to high-wealth clients. More than half of the respondents said their clients had recently left or expressed interest in leaving, Steindel said.

Three-fourths of those who expressed interest in leaving have annual incomes over $100,000, while 15 percent earn more than $1 million, according to the survey.

Location Decisions

The survey by Christie’s administration is at odds with an August study by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which found that housing prices and job opportunities have more impact on migration patterns than tax rates. The group advocates more spending on government programs for the poor.

The center’s study, using research from Stanford University, examined New Jersey’s 2004 tax increase on income exceeding $500,000. It found that migration among that group increased at a similar rate as those not subject to the tax.

“For two years we’ve treated millionaires with kid gloves and it has not worked,” Sweeney told reporters Nov. 10 in Trenton. “We’re going to fight with this governor when we know he’s wrong.”

Lagging Recovery

Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Sweeney, said the governor has “coddled the rich” and the Steindel study is based on flawed politics to justify his agenda. Neither Michael Drewniak nor Kevin Roberts, spokesmen for Christie, immediately returned telephone calls or e-mails seeking comment on Sweeney’s statements.

According to Steindel’s study, the state’s losses from the 2004 millionaire’s tax, approved under former Democratic Governor James McGreevey, totaled about 20,000 taxpayers and $2.5 billion in income.

“Is this the only thing on their minds? Certainly not,” Steindel said, referring to the effect of taxes. “It does have an effect on the state economy and it does have an effect on peoples’ location decisions.”

New Jersey’s economy was ranked the third-worst performing among U.S. states in the year through June 30, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States Index, which uses data on employment, income, real estate, taxes and local stocks.

Credit Ratings

The state’s recovery lagged behind the nation, the three major credit-rating companies said when they each lowered New Jersey’s bond ranking by one level this year.

New Jersey had the nation’s highest state and local tax burden in fiscal 2009, the Washington-based Tax Foundation said in February. Residents paid 12.2 percent of their incomes in state and local levies. New York was next with 12.1 percent.

New Jersey has been “bumping the bottom” during the recovery, as it trails neighboring New York City in job creation since the end of the recession, said Erica Groshen, a vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in September, while the national rate was 9.1 percent.

While its jobless rate is higher than the U.S. figure, its participation rate -- the proportion of the population that is employed or looking for work -- is 65.9 percent, above the national rate of about 64.2 percent, Groshen said. A higher participation rate indicates a more ready workforce, she said.

New Jersey’s economy is poised to recover as officials practice fiscal restraint and fewer people leave the state, said Joel Naroff, president and founder of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. Reduced government spending in New Jersey will continue for at least two years, he said.

While New Jersey has a housing surplus, it “has not had the default crisis seen elsewhere,” Naroff said. With residents struggling to sell their homes, they have less flexibility to head to states such as Florida, where the cost of living is lower, he said.

“If you can’t sell your house, you can’t move,” he said. “Expect slowly improving economic and revenue growth, but not any surge coming from income, sales or corporate taxes. This is a slow population-growth state. We’re slowing the out- migration.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net; Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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