Why is Taylor Swift, one of New York City’s favorite paparazzi targets, voting in Tennessee? Let’s count the millions of dollars of reasons why.
Swift recently posted on Instagram about politics, which was considered worthy of breaking news alerts from major outlets, although she doesn’t typically weigh in on political issues. Even Fox News ruled Swift’s post worthy of a breaking news email. Marking a star’s political post as breaking news is a little absurd, but okay.
Swift posted her decision to vote this year against Republican Senate candidate and current U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, and announced she was voting for former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen for Senate and incumbent Rep. Jim Cooper for Congress. She encouraged her 112 million Instagram followers to be informed and register to vote. Apparently, 65,000 people did register within 24 hours, both nationally and in Tennessee, according to vote.org.
Now, aside from misconstruing Blackburn’s voting record, which others have already examined, as well as Bredesen’s background (intersectional feminists should cringe), let’s dig a little deeper and look at a few subtle hypocrisies in Swift’s decision to vote in Tennessee.
State residency determines where one pays state income taxes, and Swift’s near nine-figure real estate holdings across the globe are quite revealing. Swift owns two properties in Tennessee. She also owns three properties on one block in New York City, valued at $50 million, and pays $40,000 per month to rent a fourth, as well as one in Los Angeles, one in Rhode Island, and one in London. She was even chosen by New York City’s official marketing and tourism organization as its “global welcome ambassador” from 2014-2015 to coincide with her 1989 song, “Welcome to New York.”
This honor was touted by New York City, but it backfired, as some cited longtime New York City residents as better options, and others were just downright snarky and very unwelcoming. Since then, there is no record of a new “welcome ambassador” replacing Swift. She also moved to New York City in March 2014, the same month she unequivocally called Nashville “home” in an interview with Time.
When asked in the Time interview how much time she spends in Nashville and whether she ever considered moving her operations to L.A. or New York, Swift was ambiguous, but made it clear Nashville would always be her “home base.” She explained her family, record label, and management company are all based there.
A big deal was made of Swift’s move to New York. She graced the cover of Rolling Stone as the feature piece symbolized her new life as a “reinvention,” transitioning from country to pop, moving to the Big Apple, and embracing a more mature, grown-up style. Swift gushed on “Good Morning America” in October 2014:
I dreamt about moving to New York. I obsessed about moving to New York and then I did it. … The inspiration that I found in that city is kind of hard to describe and hard to compare to any other force of inspiration I’ve ever experienced in my life.
But did Swift really move to New York — lock, stock, and barrel — at any point? If so, why is Swift voting in Tennessee in 2018? And why was she summoned for jury duty in Tennessee in August 2016? It’s unclear where she voted in 2016, though she did vote, but if she was called for jury duty in the Volunteer State just a few months prior, a likely assumption for voting would be the same state, not the Empire State.
One typically votes and is called for jury duty where one claims residency (unless one wants to break the law, which I am not suggesting Swift did in the slightest).
What do New York, California, and Rhode Island have in common? Aside from being blue states, they all have very high state income taxes, especially for the highest brackets. What does Tennessee have? No state income tax, except a shrinking 3 percent interest and dividend income tax (phasing out in 2021) — which I’m guessing does affect Swift, but not to the extent New York’s 8.82 percent, California’s 13.3 percent, or Rhode Island’s 5.99 percent income tax would. The only reason the overall tax burden isn’t very high in Tennessee is because it is a red state.
Having full residency and one’s management company and record label in Nashville is therefore a savvy financial move. Alternatively, on top of New York state’s income tax, New York City also has a special resident tax of 3.876 percent, and both California and New York have higher capital gains taxes than most states.
New York is known for its notoriously onerous Department of Taxation and Finance, which will hunt you down if it even has the smallest suspicion that you are a resident by their definition. It doesn’t matter if Nashville is really Swift’s home in her heart.
Rush Limbaugh, who actually made more than Swift in 2018, was audited for 12 tax years when he owned an apartment in New York City, but lived in Florida and was present in New York for 0 to 20 days a year. He finally left New York for good and sold his apartment when already high taxes were raised in the city in 2009.
Back to the queen of pop. The question still remains, Why claim residency in Tennessee, especially if, in Swift’s words, Blackburn doesn’t represent “MY Tennessee values?” At first glance, it makes sense. Swift’s family moved to Tennessee when she was 13 so she could try her hand in the music business. Swift was a country music singer and got her start in Nashville. But she’s now 28 and has arguably held the title of most successful singer/songwriter for about a decade.
And what about Swift’s principles? The other hypocrisy lies in not supporting the policies and people that blue states like California and New York welcome with open arms. Both have the highest number of illegal immigrants and many so-called sanctuary cities. Both have budgets that are crumbling under the weight of very generous welfare policies and public pension funds (including tax-free public pensions in New York).
Other liberal policies include gay marriage, LGBTQ accommodations, higher minimum wages, progressive tax brackets versus flat taxes, and countless others. Swift could also support female politicians who align with her views if she moved to a blue state, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) or Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
In some ways, you really can’t fault Swift. She did what most athletes, Hollywood liberals, and politicians do. They talk a big game when it comes to paying their fair share and wanting to pay more in taxes. But when it comes down to it, some pro athletes claim residency in Florida and Texas, also non-income tax states. Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods come to mind.
NFL teams in no-income tax states have a huge advantage. From Forbes:
The difference between teams in Washington, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida, where no state income tax is levied, verses those in California, which takes a whopping 13.3 percent, is staggering— $19.1 million.
To put that difference in perspective, $19.1 million after taxes is more than any player in the NFL has ever earned per year, meaning teams in taxless states can essentially afford a California roster plus the most expensive player in NFL history on top of that each and every year.
Hollywood liberals cross the border (no, not that one) and buy a place in Nevada. Another popular option is Wyoming. Ever been to Jackson Hole? It used to be nothing. Now real estate prices are through the roof. It’s simple supply and demand economics.
As for Blackburn, she responded to Swift’s post in a Fox Business interview defending her record on protecting women and advocating for equal pay. She also slipped in that she has been instrumental in the Music Modernization Act, which includes, among other issues, songwriter compensation and music copyright and royalties. “It’s going to be signed on Thursday by the president,” she said. “I’ve been very active in that and Taylor Swift will benefit by that.”
Swift has donated a ton of money to various causes and charities. That is putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. But that’s also a politically conservative approach — entrusting money to private organizations versus the behemoth bureaucracy that is the government (and always has been, no matter who is in charge).
Obviously, Swift has to and presumably does pay taxes where required when she earns income in various states and countries. About halfway through her global “Reputation” tour, she had grossed a record $202.3 million.
To be clear, states like New York and California have relatively high taxes in other categories that Swift is not immune to: property taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, etc. I’m not writing or implying in any way that Swift is guilty of tax evasion or does not pay all necessary taxes owed. And I’m not speculating on Swift’s personal intent or tax knowledge. I think it’s safe to say she doesn’t do her own taxes, which I can imagine are infinitely complex.
Swift’s publicist, Tree Paine, did not respond to an email and phone call about all this at the time of publication. A representative from Broadcast Music, Inc., Swift’s music rights management company, also did not respond to the same email asking six questions relating to Swift’s residency status and state income taxes. This was an attempt to verify if she ever claimed residency in New York City, California, Rhode Island, or elsewhere, aside from Tennessee, including the possibility of voluntary tax payments made to any states and dual residency claims.
The saying goes, “Home is where you hang your hat,” but I guess it’s really where the most tax advantageous hat rack is located. So, call it what you want, but residency can cost millions, and Swift is no idiot. At the end of the day, she’ll be the one spending her change — not some guy, and not blue state governments on behalf of her values.