by Rex Sinquefield, January 24, 2013
Fans of the Seattle SuperSonics, the beloved NBA team whisked away to Oklahoma City in 2008, will soon have reason to stand up and cheer. No, the Oklahoma City Thunder isn’t headed back to the Pacific Northwest – but the Sacramento Kings will be calling Seattle home before too long. The resurrection of the SuperSonics has spirits soaring in the Evergreen State.
On Monday morning, the Seattle Times reported that a Seattle group helmed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer agreed to purchase the Sacramento Kings. Pending approval from the NBA Board of Governors, the team would move to Seattle and play its first season as the SuperSonics this fall.
There are many reasons for teams to relocate, and the built-in Seattle fan base is certainly a plus for this NBA team. However, it is crucial to remember that sports franchises are multi-million dollar businesses. Those who occupy the front office spend a lot of time scrutinizing the finances. From this perspective, a move from California to Washington State is a no-brainer. The marginal personal-income tax rate for wealthy Californians – a category under which professional ballplayers almost certainly fall – is a whopping 13.3 percent. Washington, on the other hand, levies no personal income tax on any of its residents. Whether a member of the SuperSonics organization is shooting free-throws or taking tickets, he gets to keep more of his earned income.
Professional sports teams aren’t the only organizations ditching California for Washington’s friendlier tax climate. According to migration data from the Internal Revenue Service, over the 15-year period from 1995 to 2010, King County (where Seattle is located) has gained $32 million in adjusted gross income from Sacramento County. Other California counties have added significant amounts to King County’s coffers, too. During those same 15 years, Orange County lost $98 million in net AGI to King County. Los Angeles saw a huge hit, with King County gaining $313 million of Los Angelenos’ net AGI.
Clearly, investors like Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer understand that personal income is one of our most precious and most highly mobile assets. For the Kings, the move to Seattle is one for the win column. For Sacramento, it’s yet another loss, provoked by a growth-stifling tax climate. Seattleites are no doubt looking forward to cheering for the SuperSonics this fall.
Thanks to the state’s lack of a personal income tax, these fans may even have enough spending money for a courtside seat.