What Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ move from Seattle has to do with taxes

 When Jeff Bezos posted a heartfelt goodbye to Seattle, he also inadvertently left a parting gift: a reignited debate about Washington’s taxes.

Bezos, Amazon’s founder, former CEO, and current executive chair, announced Thursday he was leaving Seattle after nearly 30 years in the region. Bezos started Amazon in the garage of his Bellevue home in 1994. 

In an Instagram post Thursday, Bezos said he is moving to Miami to be closer to his parents, who recently moved back to Bezos’ hometown, and closer to Cape Canaveral, where Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin is developing a new rocket model. 

While Bezos didn’t mention Washington’s politics or taxes in the announcement, the news immediately sparked speculation that the state’s new capital gains tax and new wealth tax proposal may have pushed America’s second-richest person out.

“Jeff Bezos announced a move to Miami, and somewhere, a Washington state revenue official was probably moved to tears,” Jared Walczak, vice president of state projects at the Tax Foundation wrote in a blog post-Friday morning. The Tax Foundation, a right-leaning think tank, has been a vocal critic of Washington’s capital gains tax.

With an estimated net worth of $161 billion, Bezos is the third-richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. He ranks just above Microsoft co-founder (and Washington resident) Bill Gates, who has an estimated net worth of $126 billion. Tesla magnate Elon Musk and Bernard Arnault, the CEO of luxury retail brand LVMH, outrank both Washington billionaires.

Washington’s Supreme Court upheld the controversial capital gains tax in March, after years of legal challenges. The measure applies a 7% tax on the sale of financial assets, such as stocks and bonds. It applies only to profits over $250,000 and does not apply to real estate or retirement accounts. 

In May, early estimates suggested Washington could bring in $849 million in its first year of collecting the tax. Democrats first passed the capital gains tax in 2021, with plans to spend the revenue on early childhood education programs. 

It’s not clear how much of Bezos’ potential tax bill contributed to that estimate, and Washington’s Department of Revenue is unable to comment on how one individual may affect the total. There are several deductions and exemptions that could reduce the taxable amount of long-term gains, the department said, making it difficult to estimate. 

Bezos has sold nearly 2.7 million shares of Amazon stock this year, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. That’s significantly less than last year when Bezos sold more than 6.6 million shares.

In May, Bezos dumped more than 1.3 million shares but bought one share valued at about $115. Bezos holds nearly 1 billion shares in Amazon.

Washington regulators have also proposed a wealth tax that would apply to individuals who have more than $250 million. 

After two earlier attempts to pass similar taxes failed, Democrats introduced the measure again in January as part of a nationwide campaign, with seven state legislatures launching similar efforts.

Sen. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, who sponsored the wealth tax legislation this year, estimated it would affect about 700 Washingtonians. 

Neither Washington nor Florida have state income taxes. Bezos’ new home state, controlled by a Republican Legislature and governor, doesn’t have a capital gains tax and was not part of the cluster of states that proposed a wealth tax earlier this year.

Bezos bought a waterfront mansion in Florida in August and then bought the neighboring home in October. He paid $68 million for the first sale, an estate in Indian Creek, a man-made barrier island in the larger Miami area. He paid another $79 million for the seven-bedroom mansion next door.

Besides the Indian Creek homes, Bezos has homes in Washington, D.C.; a 9-acre Beverly Hills mansion; a ranch in Texas; an estate in Maui; and properties in New York and Seattle. He also owns one of the world’s most expensive superyachts, the Koru, which launched this year and cost an estimated $500 million to build.

Bezos’ decision to start Amazon in Seattle — at the time, the company was still just an online bookstore — may have always been partly about taxes. Tom Alberg, an early Amazon investor and influential figure in Seattle’s tech ecosystem, told The Seattle Times that Bezos set up shop in the region to be close to engineering talent at Microsoft and the University of Washington.

But, by locating the company outside California, Bezos could also sell into that large market without collecting sales tax from customers there, giving Amazon a price advantage over physical bookstores. 

Now, Amazon has grown from a one-garage shop to a company with more than 65,000 employees on two campuses in Seattle and Bellevue, offices around the world, and a second headquarters in Arlington, Va.

In 2014, after Amazon made the decision to aggressively expand its South Lake Union campus, Bezos wrote to shareholders: “Though I can’t prove it, I also believe an urban headquarters will help keep Amazon vibrant, attract the right talent, and be great for the health and wellbeing of our employees and the city of Seattle.”

On Thursday, in announcing his decision to move away, Bezos wrote “As exciting as the move is, it’s an emotional one for me. Seattle, you will always have a piece of my heart.”

In 2000, Bezos started Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturing company with headquarters in Kent, with hopes of opening up space tourism. Bezos said Thursday he is also moving to Miami to be closer to Cape Canaveral, a space hub about three hours away where Blue Origin is developing its New Glenn rocket. The rocket’s launch has been delayed for years but may take off next year.

Amazon declined to comment on what Bezos’ move may mean for the company. Blue Origin could not be reached for comment. 

Thomas Gilbert, a finance professor at the University of Washington, said Washington’s taxes may have played a role in Bezos’ decision to move — but that the policies were likely not the primary motivator. Instead, Gilbert predicted, Bezos may be separating himself from the company to give CEO Andy Jassy space to make his mark.

Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon in 2021 and handed the reins to Jassy, the former head of the profitable cloud computing division Amazon Web Services. Bezos is still Amazon’s executive chair and remains engaged with the company, Jassy told The New York Times in September, adding that the two leaders talk about once a week. 

Gilbert said it can be difficult for a new CEO to succeed if the company’s founder or former CEO is still heavily involved in decisions.

“I think it was clear to Jeff to say, ‘Well, Andy is now in charge. I need to step away,’” Gilbert said. “I mean physically, mentally, and time-wise. ‘He is now running Amazon and I am doing something else, like shooting rockets into space.’”

The Amazon founder made a huge announcement on Thursday that he was decamping from Seattle after almost 30 years and moving back to Miami, where he spent many formative years. Where will the world’s second-richest man live? Not the charming, leafy Pinecrest area, near his alma mater, Miami Palmetto Senior High School. The 59-year-old Internet mogul is very appropriately going to lay his head in Indian Creek Village, better known to locals as “Billionaire Bunker,” due to the high concentration of 1 percenter types. READ MORE: It’s a Tom Brady takeover in Miami Though the 305 has other enclaves for super-wealthy folks like Star Island, Bal Harbour, or Cocoplum, Bezos likely chose the man-made barrier island (population: under 100) for a variety of reasons. Among them: gorgeous views of Biscayne Bay, privacy, security, famous neighbors (more on that later) and proximity to the bustling mainland. The e-entrepreneur wrote on Instagram that he mainly wanted to relocate from his longtime base of Seattle to be closer to his parents. Jackie and Mike Bezos have a mansion in Coral Gables, about a 20-minute drive southwest, depending on the time of day. His younger half-brother Mark Bezos, who owns a private equity firm is also a part-time Palm Beach resident, about an hour’s drive north. Jeff Bezos’ houses in Indian Creek The Albuquerque native will be absolutely living the dream there. Over the past few months, the divorced father of four has scooped up a serious chunk of (um) prime waterfront real estate there. In August, Bezos paid $68 million for a 9,259 square foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom mansion; two months later, he dropped another $79 million for the seven-bedroom, 14-bathroom, 19,064 square foot estate next door. Needless to say, we think he and his fiancée Lauren Sanchez are going to be very happy with their new digs. “Indian Creek is one of the most exclusive communities in the country,” Dina Goldentayer, of Douglas Elliman, told the Miami Herald after the first deal over the summer. “The neighborhood is a haven for high-profile residents because of the privacy and space it offers.” Goldentayer goes on to explain that the village, with its own country club and golf course, has more than 300 acres of guard-gated land with fewer than 40 homes, as well as a private police force with officers who patrol by both land and sea. “Indian Creek is the equivalent of St. Jean Cap Ferrat in the south of France or Field Point Circle in Greenwich, Connecticut,” she said. And about those famous neighbors... If Bezos and Sanchez need to borrow a cup of sugar, they are just down the road from such bold-faced names as supermodel Cindy Crawford, NFL icon Tom Brady, and former first daughter Ivanka Trump. Trump recently moved into the newly renovated property with their husband Jared Kushner, their three kids, and grandma “Babi,” throwing her 42nd birthday party there. The daughter and son-in-law of former President Donald Trump reportedly dropped more than $30 million on a 1.8-acre, 80,000-square-foot lot from crooner Julio Iglesias back in late 2020. READ MORE: See a list of famous residents in ‘Billionaire Bunker’ Brady, as many football fans may already know, styles out in his tremendous bachelor pad (complete with a dock for his yacht) after splitting with Gisele Bundchen. The two were originally planning on living there together before their relationship imploded. The supermodel now conveniently has a place across the way in Surfside. Other past and current residents include auto dealership magnate Norman Braman, Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima, and Sábado Gigante” host Don Francisco.

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