SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Republican state lawmakers reacted Tuesday with an "I told you so" after golf champion Phil Mickelson said he might leave California because voters approved higher income taxes on the wealthy.
The four-time major champion said higher state and federal taxes will take 60 percent of his income.
California lawmakers split upon reliably partisan lines in offering reaction, with Republicans saying they expect more high-earners to follow and Democrats saying multimillionaires can afford to pay more.
Voters in November overwhelmingly approved Proposition 30, an initiative championed by Gov. Jerry Brown that boosts taxes on income over $250,000 a year for seven years and raises the statewide sales tax by a quarter cent for four years. Republicans who campaigned against the initiative said it would drive away entrepreneurs and investors.
"You know, it's sad. And I think it'll be the first of many," said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare. "It's one thing to have nice weather and say California's great, but at some point, I think most people don't want to turn over 60 percent of their earned income to taxes."
Mickelson first made a cryptic reference two weeks ago before the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he won last year for his 40th career PGA Tour title. He expanded on his comments after his final round Sunday at the Humana Challenge.
"There are going to be some drastic changes for me because I happen to be in that zone that has been targeted both federally and by the state, and it doesn't work for me right now," he said. "So I'm going to have to make some changes."
Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Roseville, said it was what Republicans predicted.
"He's another example of our messed-up tax system, and it's driving successful people out of our state," she said.
California should broaden its tax base instead of turning first to the wealthy, said Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, vice chairman of the Senate budget committee.
"It's not just the 'big rich.' It is those who are aspiring. It is the two-person working families that are making over $250,000," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who previously was Republicans' lead budget negotiator in the Assembly.
Mickelson's comment recalls the ongoing spat between the French government and actor Gerard Depardieu, who has acquired a Russian passport and said he would move to Belgium to avoid a proposed 75 percent tax on the wealthy.
But Sen. Mark Leno, chairman of the Senate budget committee, said California's tax environment is nothing like that proposed in France. Leno, D-San Francisco, said he has never seen tax flight so significant that it should make a financial difference or influence public policy.
Democrats said there is no evidence in the U.S. or California of mass departures in the wake of higher taxes on the wealthy. State Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, called Mickelson "the exception rather than the rule."
"Most of the people who do well love to be in California, and there's no evidence from past occasions when tax rates were higher on the wealthy that it led to any kind of exodus of those who were wealthy or higher-income earners, so I don't expect that to be the case this time, either," Dickinson said.
A study last summer by two Stanford researchers found no net effect in migration out of or into California by the rich after voters in 2004 passed Proposition 63, a 1 percent income tax hike on millionaires to pay for mental health programs. The study's authors said "the highest-income Californians were less likely to leave the state after the millionaire tax was passed."
Brown's press secretary, Gil Duran, said voters agreed to raise taxes to protect education from further budget cuts.
"We have to look beyond our personal interests to where we are going as a society," he said.
A majority of PGA Tour players live in Florida and others in Texas, two states that have no state income tax.
Tiger Woods grew up in Southern California and played two years at Stanford. He was a California kid when he won an unprecedented three straight U.S. Amateur titles, but when he made his professional debut in Milwaukee a week later, he was listed as being from Orlando, Fla.