Tax collectors chase rich New Yorkers moving to low-tax states

The cat-and-mouse game between state tax collectors and wealthy New Yorkers who are moving to Florida has reached new levels — and gone high tech.

New federal tax laws limiting the deduction of state and local income taxes have created incentives for wealthy New Yorkers to move to Florida or other lower-tax states. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month blamed wealth flight for the state’s $2.3 billion revenue shortfall in December and January.

“Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich,” he said. “We did. Now, God forbid, the rich leave.”

But the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance is making sure that high earners who try to leave don’t escape without an audit and a bill. New York conducted about 3,000 “nonresidency” audits a year between 2010 and 2017, collecting around $1 billion, according to Monaeo, a company that sells an app for tracking and proving tax residency.

More than half of those who were audited lost their cases, and the average collected by New York State between 2015 and 2017 was $144,270 per audit, Monaeo said. In addition to the traditional audit methods the state uses to make sure a taxpayer isn’t gaming the system — like checking taxpayer’s credit card bills and travel schedules — New York officials are using a whole new set of high-tech tools, including tracking cellphone records, social media feeds, and veterinary and dentist records. Auditors are even conducting in-home inspections to look inside taxpayers’ refrigerators.

“If you’re a high earner in New York and you move to Florida, your chances of a residency audit are 100 percent,” said Barry Horowitz, a partner at the WithumSmith+Brown accounting firm. “New York has always been aggressive. But it’s getting worse.”

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