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    Monday, June 24, 2024

    Meet Connecticut’s billionaires

    WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon speaks to an audience during a WWE fan appreciation event, Oct. 30, 2010, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

    With the volatile stock market still setting records this year, Connecticut’s rich are getting richer.

    That is documented in Forbes magazine’s latest annual listing of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

    Connecticut has 15 residents on an extended list of billionaires, which has been growing with stock prices and real estate values climbing. For years, the list marked a compilation of those whose wealth had reached $1 billion.

    But now with a new cutoff of $2.9 billion to qualify for the top 400, many billionaires and wealthy Americans are no longer on the traditional list. Former President Donald J. Trump did not make the cut as Forbes calculated his net worth, which has been much in dispute, at an estimated $2.6 billion.

    In Connecticut, the richest resident is Steve Cohen, the longtime hedge fund manager who is most widely known for buying the New York Mets baseball team in 2020 for $2.4 billion. Cohen’s worth is calculated at $19.8 billion.

    He is followed by fellow Greenwich resident Ray Dalio, who clocks in at $15.4 billion, which is down from last year’s estimate at $19.1 billion and allows Cohen to take the top spot in Connecticut.

    Dalio and his wife, Barbara, have stepped more into the public eye by trying to help at-risk youth who are in danger of dropping out of high school. A report by a consulting group said that nearly 20% of Connecticut youths between the ages of 14 and 26 in 2022 had either already dropped out of high school, were at risk of not graduating, did not have a job or college plans, or were in prison.

    The Dalios appeared on stage with Gov. Ned Lamont in East Hartford High School’s gymnasium in April 2019 to talk about the problem, which is a long-running issue in the state. The Dalios pledged $100 million over five years in a high-profile partnership with the state, but the partnership was eventually dissolved over various controversies including concerns about public disclosure and the state’s freedom of information laws.

    Everything is relative in the stratosphere of billionaires. Cohen and Dalio stand head and shoulders beyond the other Connecticut billionaires and their relative net worth.

    At $19.8 billion, Cohen has more than six times as much wealth as Greenwich resident Vince McMahon, who has an estimated $3.1 billion from his World Wrestling Entertainment empire.

    McMahon has vastly expanded the Stamford-based business that he bought from his father, and WWE matches are now shown in more than 30 languages in nearly 150 countries worldwide in a highly successful business.

    As WWE has increased sharply in value since going public more than two decades ago, the parent company disclosed recently that McMahon would be selling $300 million in company stock. McMahon, 78, stepped down from running the company following various controversies and public allegations that he has denied.

    Connecticut state income tax

    The billionaires and near-billionaires are important players in the Connecticut economy because they pay a large share of the state income tax.

    The top 2% of tax filers pay 40% of the state income tax, according to statistics by Lamont’s budget office. The top 2% covers filers earning more than $500,000 per year. At the other end of the income spectrum, the bottom 54% of filers — representing more than half of the total — paid 4% of the income tax.

    Besides prominent celebrities like McMahon, many of those on Forbes list have relatively lower profiles by comparison.

    Todd Boehly, a Darien resident, has risen to prominence as co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and L.A. Lakers basketball team. His picture was featured on the cover of Forbes, which will clearly boost his profile.

    Boehly’s Greenwich-based private holding company, known as Eldridge Industries, has more than 3,000 employees and has invested in numerous ventures, including the song rights of rock superstar Bruce Springsteen.

    Karen Pritzker of Branford, who is a member of the wealthy family that made its money from the Hyatt hotel chain, is tied with Boehly at $6 billion each, according to Forbes.

    Other Connecticut billionaires on the list include relatively low-key financiers and investors who are generally out of the public spotlight.

    They include:

    – Brad Jacobs, a Greenwich resident who founded XPO Logistics and other companies. At $4.1 billion, his wealth is now up from last year’s estimate of $3.8 billion.

    – Douglas Ostrover of Greenwich, co-founder and chief executive officer of Blue Owl Capital in Manhattan and Greenwich, at $2.9 billion.

    – Michael Rees of New Canaan, a former executive at the Lehman Brothers investment bank and co-president of Blue Owl Capital, at $1.9 billion. Ostrover and Rees merged their separate firms to create Blue Owl Capital.

    – Clifford S. Asness of Greenwich, a hedge fund manager and New York City native who holds a Ph.D. in finance, at $2 billion. He runs AQR Capital Management, which is named after Applied Quantitative Research. In 2009, he gained attention for criticizing then-President Barack Obama in an essay titled “Unafraid in Greenwich” after Obama had complained about hedge funds related to the bankruptcy of Chrysler.

    “Angering the President is a mistake, and my views will annoy half my clients,” Asness wrote. “I hope my clients will understand that I’m entitled to my voice and to speak it loudly, just as they are in this great country. … The managers have a fiduciary obligation to look after their clients’ money as best they can, not to support the President, nor to oppose him, nor otherwise advance their personal political views. That’s how the system works.”

    Alexandra Daith of Old Lyme and Lucy Stitzer of Greenwich, two sisters who have inherited wealth from Cargill, a global food giant that is privately held and still mostly owned by billionaires in the family that founded it in 1865. The company operates in low-key fashion and is less known to the general public than other giants in the food business like General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Archer Daniels Midland. Their worth is estimated at $2 billion each.

    Greenwich resident Mario Gabelli, 82, is well known in the finance world for running an investment company since the 1970s. His wealth is estimated at $1.8 billion, and his philanthropic contributions prompted Fordham University to place his name on its business school.

    Two Connecticut homeowners are now listed by Forbes in their home countries:

    Darien resident O. Andreas Halvorsen, who co-founded a hedge fund in Greenwich known as Viking Global Investors and served on the board of Greenwich Academy, is now listed in his home country of Norway at $7.2 billion.

    In the same way, Alex Behring, who co-founded 3G Capital in Greenwich, is now listed in Brazil at $6.3 billion.

    Biden in Greenwich

    Stephen Mandel, Jr., a longtime hedge fund manager with a Harvard MBA degree, founded Lone Pine Capital in 1997. Public records show that he contributed $1 million in 2020 to the Lincoln Project, which is operated by former Republican strategists who helped blocked Donald J. Trump’s attempt at reelection.

    Mandel’s name came into the public eye when President Joe Biden visited Mandel’s Greenwich home for a fundraiser in June 2023.

    “As Americans, we all owe a big thanks to the President for what he’s done the last two years,” Mandel said, according to the pool report filed by a Washington-based reporter.

    For years, Republicans have predicted that some of the wealthiest residents would flee from Connecticut if taxes were raised too high. During the tenure of then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, taxes were increased and the three highest top rates of 6.7%, 6.9% and 6.99% were added to the state income tax. The state now has seven different income tax rates, up from three rates when Malloy took office in 2011.

    Lamont, however, has repeatedly stated that he favors no increases on the state income tax beyond the current 6.99% level. Lamont has been able to block any attempts over the past six years, and Democrats do not currently have enough votes in the state House of Representatives to override a potential veto.

    Lawmakers have said that some wealthy residents quietly moved out of the state at an increasing pace — taking their wealth with them to states like Florida, where there is no state income tax. Those who have moved to Florida include major Greenwich investors like Edward Lampert, Paul Tudor Jones, Thomas Peterffy, C. Dean Metropoulos, William R. Berkley, and Barry Sternlicht, according to public accounts and statements by fellow Greenwich residents.

    For years, Republicans and Democrats have argued over whether the tax flight is a myth and whether wealthy, older residents move primarily for better weather as opposed to lower taxes.

    Lamont himself ranks among the highest-earning tax filers in the state. During the 2022 election campaign, Lamont released his tax returns that showed that his adjusted gross income for 2021 was $54 million. That included $52.7 million in capital gains as Wall Street set records in 2021 before falling back in the following year.

    The booming stock market in 2021 made a major difference as Lamont’s previous adjusted gross income had been reported as $7.77 million in 2018, $10.14 million in 2019, and $8.02 million in 2020.

    Estate tax

    While the Forbes list tracks those who are still working or at least collecting stock dividends, Connecticut also has ultra-wealthy families who are paying the state’s estate tax.

    Anyone who died in 2023 with an estate of less than $12.9 million owed no tax in Connecticut or at the federal level — as the state exemption that has increased sharply from the past.

    In Connecticut, 138 people had more than $10 million in their estate when they died, based on statewide probate records for 2021. The records show that 39 of those estates were above $15 million each and six were above $100 million.

    Based on interpretations of probate law, state officials declined to reveal the names of those with some of the largest estates. Those included estates of $124.5 million from a resident of Wilton, $121.5 million from Essex, and $108 million from the Riverside section of Greenwich. Those totals reflect the size of the estates, rather than the amount of taxes paid.

    The estate tax is highly volatile because state officials cannot predict the timing of anyone’s death and the exact amount of money that they will have.

    As such, the projected tax collection for the current fiscal year has been reduced by $45 million, down from a projection by the legislature of $178 million to the new level of $133 million. Lamont’s budget office said in a letter to the comptroller that the reason is that “the tax continues to underperform each month” as there is slightly more than two months remaining in the fiscal year that ends on June 30.

    With the state relying on fewer individuals to pay the bulk of the bills, officials at the state tax department traditionally keep a close eye on the top 100 taxpayers. Former Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan has said that the top 100 taxpayers, collectively, are tracked quarterly and annually to help forecast the state’s tax fortunes.

    State Rep. Stephen Meskers of Greenwich, a moderate Democrat who worked in the finance industry, said that keeping the billionaires is important because they never move to Florida alone when they move the hedge fund there.

    “When we drive them to Florida, they take another 50 to 100 associated individuals,” Meskers said in an interview. “The impact isn’t the individual. People tend to want to curry favor with the boss. They could be earning $400,000, $500,000 or $600,000 salaries.”

    Meskers added that the state does not need to lose many individuals to have a significant impact.

    “If you lose three or four of the major taxpayers, you could be down 200, 300, 400 million bucks directly,” Meskers said of the state income tax. “The question is how do we get more of them and not how much to tax them.”

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