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Del. Pushkin: American billionaires are 'freeloading' off the working class
"These are people who punch a time clock. Yet, they are paying a higher share of taxes than billionaires... That’s not fair. That’s not right. That’s called freeloading, & people should be outraged."
By DOUGLAS J HARDING
West Virginia Del. Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha, 37) said during a recent tele-townhall that billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are “freeloading” off the backs of working-class Americans by taking advantage of a broken federal tax code.
“My constituents are working people. These are people who punch a time clock. Yet, they are paying a higher share of taxes than billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg,” Del. Pushkin said. “That’s not fair. That’s not right. That’s called freeloading, and people should be outraged.”
The townhall last week was focused on raising awareness and support for a proposed reform of the American tax code to favor working Americans and force billionaires to pay their fair share.
“When people read these headlines that celebrity billionaires are paying next-to-nothing while they’re paying more—well, that’s frustrating,” Del. Pushkin said. “It’s frustrating because we have infrastructure needs and we have a deficit that isn’t taken seriously. It’s frustrating because it’s just unfair. According to a recent CBS poll, taxing the wealthy is the number two overall issue that voters want to see.”
The Washington Post reported in 2019 that “For the first time in history, U.S. billionaires paid a lower tax rate than the working class.”
A ProPublica investigation published in April this year revealed that from 2014-2018, the 25 wealthiest Americans paid just 3.4 percent of their increased wealth in taxes. During that time period, those ultra-wealthy Americans gained more than $400 billion while paying just over $13.5 billion in taxes.
“These ultra-wealthy 1 percent don’t get their income from wages and salaries like you and I do. They get theirs from returns on their wealth,” Del. Pushkin said. “When you count the growth of their wealth like income, 26 of the richest people in America paid an average federal income tax rate of just 4.8 percent from 2013-2018. Meanwhile, average working-class American households earning about $70,000 per year paid about 14 percent in federal taxes. That’s 4.8 percent compared to 14 percent in federal taxes.”
Del. Pushkin urged West Virginians to call Sen. Joe Manchin and encourage him to support a wealth tax on American billionaires, such as the one proposed by President Joe Biden in March this year.
“This imbalance underscores why we need to tax billionaires and the other ultra-wealthy 1 percent of Americans more effectively,” Del. Pushkin said. “Both President Biden and Congressional Democrats have proposed legislation to do that. The Billionaire Minimum Income Tax would tax the increased wealth the ultra-wealthy accumulate from their investments each year. Just like you and I pay taxes on our wages each year, they would be taxed on what they gain from their investments—that’s how they make their money. It’s a simple, popular way to make sure billionaires start paying their fair share.”
Del. Pushkin said a wealth tax on billionaires would aim to close loopholes in the current tax code that allow the ultra-wealthy to avoid paying income taxes sometimes for decades at a time.
“One proposal for this tax would require people with more than $1 billion in net-worth or over $100 million in income for at least three years to pay taxes on the increased value of their assets at the end of the year,” he said. “Right now, they only owe taxes when those assets are sold. That allows them to build enormous fortunes. They can live off of that wealth indefinitely without ever paying taxes. Billionaires mostly live off investment income rather than a salary or business income. These gains pay for their luxurious lifestyles the way wages pay for our lifestyles as working Americans. That’s how billionaires can go decades—their whole lives—without paying a cent in taxes on their investment income unless they sell them.”
Del. Pushkin said the increased revenue from forcing billionaires to pay their fair share in taxes could go a long way in furthering programs and initiatives aimed at helping struggling people across the country.
“Here’s the core of the issue: If we’re all required to pay annual taxes on the income we live on, then why aren’t billionaires? We’re talking about a reasonable tax rate that would affect fewer than 1,000 taxpayers and would generate as much as $500 billion in the next ten years,” he said. “That’s enough to cut childcare costs in half for most families by capping them at 7 percent of income for ten years. Or it could pay for five more years of the improvements made to the child tax credit last year which benefited 91,000 families in West Virginia. It’s just common sense. It’s simply fair, and it’s what most people want. We all have to work for a living, and we all have to pay our fair share of taxes at the end of the year. Why shouldn’t those at the top of the food chain?”
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Lida Shepherd, who works with American Friends Service Committee’s West Virginia Economic Justice Project, echoed this sentiment.
An increase in revenue that would result from forming a fairer tax code, Shepherd said, could be used to help reduce the weight currently carried by working-class Americans struggling to cope with the skyrocketing costs of health care, child care and college education.
“To put this into the context of the economic fallout from the pandemic, while here so many people are struggling and losing their jobs, billionaires increased their wealth by $2 trillion during the first two years of the pandemic,” Shepherd said. “Meanwhile, the rest of us continue to struggle to make ends meet. Out of control health care costs, prescription drug costs, unaffordable child care, lack of paid leave and the cost of college are huge issues for West Virginians. Ensuring billionaires pay their fair share is the fiscally responsible way that we can relieve the burden on working Americans.”
Shepherd added that one of the leading versions of a proposed wealth tax on billionaires would affect only a tiny percentage of people in America—and even fewer people in West Virginia.
“So, who will this affect? Just 700 billionaires,” Shepherd said. “And I would point out: Not a single one of those 700 billionaires lives in West Virginia.”
A report released in January this year by Americans for Tax Fairness found that the wealth of the ten richest billionaires in America had more than doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The top ten American billionaires get $1 billion richer every day,” the report states. “The collective fortune of the ten richest Americans more than doubled since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, to $1.35 trillion.”
Such a collective increase in wealth amounts to about $12,600 per second, or $1,260 per second for each billionaire, the report states.
The West Virginia Holler is an affiliate of The Tennessee Holler and is powered, in part, by West Virginia Can’t Wait. Follow the Holler on Twitter @HollerWV and Instagram @WVHoller. We're on Facebook too! Follow writer Douglas J. Harding @douglasjharding.
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