THE HIGH COST OF WEALTH

I was filling up my gas tank when a new, Milano Beige Metallic BMW 760Li sedan pulled up to the pump behind me. This 535-horsepower baby made my 328i look like a kid’s toy. A 760Li starts at $137,300 MSRP. But the driver looked like a regular guy—around fifty, trim with a head of dark hair. He wore jeans and a Golden State Warriors t-shirt. We nodded.

I was checking how many gallons my car had taken when I heard him spit out, “Can you believe the price of gas?” “I hear you,” I answered. “I don’t think we’ll ever pay under four bucks for premium again.” “It’s those damn taxes,” he said. “Sure,” I replied. “Federal tax. And State tax. And then there’s the higher costs to refine cleaner gas for California.”

He stuck the nozzle in his tank. A 760Li holds almost 22 gallons. “It’s a rip-off. I do a lot of driving up to Sacramento… I’m an attorney… and those taxes add up.” I wasn’t sure how badly taxes hurt a guy like him, but I changed the subject. “Warriors fan, huh?” He nodded. “Season ticket holder since forever. Courtside.” I nodded in return. “Not cheap.” He grinned. “Worth every penny. The way Washington squeezes you, you have to find some joy in life. Do you know how much I pay in taxes?” I shrugged. “A pretty penny, I imagine.” He stared at me. “Way, way more than that.”

I’d paid a somewhat pretty penny during my working days. But I’d had this crazy goal: get into and stay in the top tax bracket. Or come damn close. I’d pay Uncle Sam and Sacramento more, but I’d keep more. If I could earn more money for my family, why wouldn’t I?

My new pal interrupted my reverie. “Washington really sticks it to guys like me who make seven figures. They think we’re cash cows. But if they keep milking us, why should we work? And why should we hire more employees? My firm’s responsible for a lot of jobs.” I thought for a moment. “You mean if Washington raised taxes on some of your income, you might stop working?” “Hell,” he said, “why not?”

A thought struck me. “What about the NBA lockout?” I asked. “The league just cancelled the first two weeks of the season, and it could get worse.” “Greedy players,” he responded. “Maybe,” I said. “But if the players make more money, they’ll pay more taxes. Why would they want to do that?” He frowned. “That’s just how Washington kills initiative.” “So,” I said, “maybe the players would be smarter to make less money.” He smiled.

“Remember Latrell Sprewell?” I asked. He winked. “Sure do. He played for the Warriors,”  he responded. I finished pumping gas and replaced the nozzle. “At the end of his career, Sprewell turned down a three-year, fifteen-million-dollar contract from Milwaukee. It wasn’t enough, and he was honest enough to tell them: ‘I have a family to feed.’” I shook my head. “Sprewell turned down $15 million and was out of the league. Career over.”

My pal with the 760Li looked pensive. Then his face brightened. “It was a matter of principle,” he offered. “And he didn’t have to pay those ridiculous taxes.”

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