One of America's most powerful labor leaders, teachers union president Randi Weingarten, has quietly moved out of New York City, a decision that saved her from paying more than $30,000 in city income taxes that she would have owed if she had stayed.
Discussion of people fleeing New York City in part because of high income tax rates has mostly focused on high-powered conservative commentators and billionaire hedge-fund managers. Glenn Beck moved to Dallas, and Rush Limbaugh sold his New York apartment and announced he was vacating the city. An article in last week's New Yorker discussed the case of hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, who went to court to prove he was not in New York City for more than the 183 days that is the threshold for tax purposes.
No one, until now, has mentioned the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Ms. Weingarten, in that group. But sure enough, her biography on the AFT Web site states, "Weingarten now resides on Long Island and in Washington, D.C."
Such a move would have been well timed for saving on taxes. In 2010 Ms. Weingarten reportedly received a $194,188 payout for unused sick days and vacation days during her time at the United Federation of Teachers, the AFT's New York City local, where she had been president before being elevated to the national presidency. That brought her total union compensation in 2010 to more than $600,000. Union disclosure forms on file with the Department of Labor show her gross salary for 2011 was $407,323, well above what she had been making when she lived in New York City as the UFT president.
The $600,000 in 2010 would have put Ms. Weingarten in New York City's top tax bracket, hitting her with a 3.876% marginal rate on top of the top New York State income tax rate of 8.97%. The 2011 pay, because it was below the $500,000 threshold, would have been subject to a 3.648% tax rate on top of the 7.85% state tax. By avoiding a city income tax of more than 3% on about $1 million of income, Ms. Weingarten would, perfectly legally, have saved herself more than $30,000. That's money that she gets to keep and decide for herself how to use if she lives outside of New York City, but money that, had she stayed in the five boroughs, would have gone to Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council to spend.
In a telephone call, Ms. Weingarten told me that the reason for her November 2009 move was that she thought it was important for her successor at the United Federation of Teachers not to have her around. "It had nothing to do with taxes. I didn't even think about it," Ms. Weingarten said. "I'm sure there are people who do stuff for tax reasons," she said, but she said she wasn't one of them: "I think we should be paying taxes, and I pay a lot of them."
A considerable paper trail of state records—and even a release from President Obama's White House—confirms that Ms. Weingarten did move out of New York City and join the other high-income individuals in saying "no thank you" to the New York City tax man.
- State campaign finance records indicate that in 2007 and 2009, Ms. Weingarten donated to state and local candidates using the address of an apartment on South End Avenue in Lower Manhattan's Battery Park City neighborhood. The last contribution from her using that address was on September 13, 2009. Beginning August 26, 2010, and continuing through 2011 and 2012, she started making campaign contributions using as her address a house on Ocean Parkway in East Hampton, New York — all the way out on Suffolk County at the East End of Long Island.
- State voter registration records indicate that Ms. Weingarten last voted using the New York City address in the November 2009 general election. She started voting from the East Hampton address in the November 2010 election.
- Finally, the White House-provided guest list for last week's state dinner for the prime minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, listed "Ms. Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers, East Hampton, NY."
Even if one takes Ms. Weingarten at her word that her move had nothing to do with taxes, there's a certain irony to the fact that she absented herself from the city during two peak earning years. It's Ms. Weingarten, after all, who, more than probably just about anyone else, is responsible for the tremendous increase in spending on New York City schools over the past decade.
From 1998, when Ms. Weingarten took over as president of the UFT, to 2009, when she stepped down, per pupil spending soared to $19,789 from $8,944, according to the city's Independent Budget Office. That is a 121% increase, driven largely by increased wages and benefits for increasing numbers of unionized teachers. And most of it is funded not by the state or federal government but by New York City taxpayers.
For ten years she also served as chairman of New York City's Municipal Labor Committee, which drove up wages and benefits for the rest of the city's employees.
Not all of us city taxpayers are lucky enough to have homes in East Hampton to escape to in years when we would have big tax bills. But Ms. Weingarten didn't earn her reputation as a shrewd and intelligent labor leader for nothing. And prepare yourselves, New Yorkers: she tells me she's thinking about moving back.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.