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Billionaires should pay what they owe

Working families are paying their fair share of taxes but American billionaires are not. Rising inflation and the escalating cost of everything from gas to houses are resulting in rising economic anxiety for many working families.

Too many people in our state are scared about the future, but the nation’s 700 billionaires face no such worries. Unlike the rest of us who struggled through the pandemic and are now trying to catch up in its aftermath, billionaires actually increased their wealth substantially during the last two years.

Yet, thanks to our skewed tax code, they won’t have to pay more in taxes like the rest of us do. Recent data show billionaires have gotten $1.7 trillion richer over the first two years of the pandemic. The report shows a 22.9% increase in personal wealth for a Rhode Island billionaire over the past two years. That’s a stark contrast to the number of people who lost jobs, businesses and suffered through illness over that same period or even to the number of people who were able to get by during the pandemic but did not massively increase their personal wealth.

The concentration of growing wealthy among the top .01% is astounding. The nation’s 700 billionaires collectively control more wealth than the bottom half of the American population. That massive wealth doesn’t just enable them to buy rocket ships and professional sports teams, it also gives them unfettered political power to keep the rules rigged in their favor.

The ultra-wealthy don’t follow the rules that the rest of us live by — they have their own. Built-in loopholes and tax breaks enable many wealthy people to consistently pay lower tax rates than nurses, firefighters and accountants.

When we get a pay raise, we make more income and pay more taxes. But when rich people hit a stock market bonanza that increases their wealth exponentially, those gains are not taxed unless they sell the assets. Economists have determined that when wealthy people’s stock gains are counted as income, the nation’s 400 richest billionaires paid a tax rate of only 8.2% over a recent nine-year period. Meanwhile, the average federal income-tax rate for all taxpayers was 13.3% in 2019.

Many of us enjoy the innovations and inventions that wealthy entrepreneurs have created, but they should still adhere to the same rules as everyone else. Wealthy people could continue to be wealthy while paying a fairer share of taxes than they currently do.

President Biden and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden have proposed different versions of bills to finally require rich people with millions or billions in assets to pay taxes on the annual increases in their wealth generated by stock and other assets the same way that the rest of us pay taxes on our income from work. Polling shows this policy is widely supported by 64% of voters.

The revenue raised from taxing this richest category of Americans could be used for any number of critical investments including lowering the cost of health care and education, covering dental, vision and hearing services for seniors in Medicare for the first time, and increasing public safety.

As a democracy, we deploy our shared resources to build a better country for everyone. It’s time for billionaires to live by the same rules as the rest of us and pay what they owe to help get the country back on track and make sure we can meet the needs of

all

Rhode Islanders.

Jocelyn Foye is the director of The Womxn Project, a statewide organization using art, advocacy and education to advance human rights and social change. .

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