"Why this fat cat likes Obama's tax plan" was the headline of a full-page ad La Jolla, investor Norman Lizt took out in The New York Times in August.
No, it wasn't really an endorsement. Lizt wrote that he has been a successful investor over the years, but if Americans re-elected President Barack Obama and his proposed tax hike became law, Lizt would face a marginal tax rate of "well over 50 percent." He wrote, "This represents the crossing of an inviolate threshold to me and is entirely unacceptable."
Lizt explained that he liked Obama's tax plan because it would prompt him to shutter his business, move his money into low-risk investments and give less to charity — while he would devote his time to traveling the globe with his fiancee, Rachel Martin.
I emailed Lizt to see whether he had made good on his warning. When we spoke Tuesday, the 71-year-old told me that he and Rachel had just returned from a two-month trip around the world. He told me he had closed down his business that invested in small-capital concerns that created jobs, even medical breakthroughs.
"We did very creative work," Lizt said. "Now we're just going to do very boring conservative land investment."
"Maybe I'll never have income again," Lizt told me. "That's the way I want it. 'No Income Norman.'"
If you're a high-wage earner, San Francisco CPA Curtis Burr opined, "you're largely screwed. There's nothing you can do but pay more or work less. For investors, it's different. The worst thing in the world now is ordinary income."
Burr anticipates a new crop of "tax shelter scams" to help big earners to avoid these high taxes.
In buying land, Lizt can increase his worth while minimizing what he has to pay to Uncle Sam. He'll still have enough assets to leave millions to those closest to him. The rest, he said, goes to his living and to charities.
"But wait a minute," you might think. "If I made millions, I wouldn't mind paying 57 percent in taxes." That's the thing. You probably won't make that much. If you're the type who earns that kind of money, you probably think differently.
"One of the reasons I've established what I have and the net worth I have is by paying attention to taxes," Lizt said. He supports progressive taxation but believes that the Obama soak-the-rich tax hike is immoral and bad for society.
I asked him whether he's thinking of pulling a Phil Mickelson, referring to the pro golfer who said he was thinking of leaving California because of the new 3 percent increase in the state's top marginal tax rate.
Last month, after Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address, California Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer handed me a Stanford University study that found that millionaire "out-migration" declined after voters imposed a 1 percent mental health tax on income greater than $1 million in 2005.
But the immortal words of state Senate Republican leader Bob Huff ring in my ears: "There's nothing more portable than a millionaire and his money."
For his part, Lizt spent a recent night checking out Sedona real estate online. He conceded he probably will stay in the Golden State. He moved from New Jersey to California in the 1990s aware that California was a high-tax state. Guesstimating how much he thought Mickelson could save by moving to, say, Florida, Lizt wondered, "Is it worth $5 million to live in a second-rate state?"
I told him that when I asked Democratic state lawmakers what they thought of Mickelson's remarks, for which the golfer later apologized, they were cold. State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, lauded the good that comes from giving back to the commonweal and then added, "My constituents didn't elect me to worry about Phil Mickelson."
Wrong, Lizt responded. "His constituents are going to pay the price if Phil Mickelson moves."
The top 1 percent of earners paid 41 percent of California income taxes in 2010. Even if you don't like guys like Lizt or Mickelson, California needs them.