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 worldaccording 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 timewise. ‘He is now running Amazon and I am doing something else, like shooting rockets into space.’”
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