STATEWIDE – Wisconsin’s eight billionaires grew $19.7 billion, or 50%, richer over the first two years of the pandemic, from March 2020 to April 5, 2022, according to Forbes data analyzed by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and Citizen Action of Wisconsin. (See table below). Despite their increased wealth, it is likely that these richest people in the state paid little if any federal income taxes on those investment gains, unlike working families in Wisconsin who pay taxes in each paycheck. Wisconsin billionaires are now worth about $59.1 billion.

Because of loopholes in current law, billionaires often pay little or no federal income tax. An expose last year by ProPublica based on IRS data revealed that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other top billionaires paid zero federal income tax in several recent years. It determined that the top 25 billionaires paid just a 3.4% tax rate between 2014 to 2018 when the growth in their wealth is counted as income. White House economists have determined the nation’s 400 richest billionaires paid a tax rate of only 8.2% over a recent nine-year span when the increased value of their corporate stock alone was counted as income. The average federal income-tax rate for all taxpayers was 13.3% in 2019.

Billionaires and other very wealthy people generate wealth through corporate stock and other investments, but they can avoid paying income taxes on the growth of their investments because the rising value of their wealth from these assets is not taxed unless those assets are sold. The very wealthy do not need to sell their assets to turn the increasing value of their wealth into cash income; instead, they use their swelling fortunes to secure special low-interest loans allowing them to live lavishly without paying income taxes. Moreover, a lifetime of such income growth from assets can be passed onto the next generation tax-free.

Congress can close this massive tax loophole through a billionaires income tax, such as proposed recently by President Joe Biden and earlier by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Senate’s chief tax writer. A comparison of the two proposals can be found here.

Name

Net Worth

Mar. 18, 2020

($ Millions)

Net Worth

Apr. 5, 2022

($ Millions)

24 Month Wealth Growth

($ Millions)

24 Month % Wealth Growth

WISCONSIN

$39,400

$59,126

$19,726

50.1%

John Menard Jr

$11,500

$15,771

$4,271

37.1%

Diane Hendricks

$6,900

$11,301

$4,401

63.8%

Herbert Kohler Jr

$5,900

$8,845

$2,945

49.9%

Judy Faulkner

$2,500

$7,355

$4,855

194.2%

James Cargill II

$2,700

$5,295

$2,595

96.1%

Helen Johnson-Leipold

$3,300

$3,527

$227

6.9%

S. Curtis Johnson

$3,300

$3,527

$227

6.9%

H. Fisk Johnson

$3,300

$3,505

$205

6.2%

Source: Forbes data from March 18, 2020, and April 5, 2022, analyzed by Americans for Tax Fairness and available here.

Both proposals would tax investment gains of the superrich more like the wages of workers are taxed now. Requiring billionaires to pay a fairer share on the growth in value of their assets would make the tax system more equitable and generate revenue that would greatly benefit the economy and increase services and opportunities for millions of Americans.

The public overwhelmingly favors a billionaires income tax: 64% of respondents in a recent national poll supported Senator Wyden’s plan. (President Biden’s plan was not tested in this poll.)

The billionaires income tax proposed by President Biden would raise about $361 billion over 10 years and the version proposed by Sen. Wyden would raise $557 billion over 10 years. Nationally, it could do a great deal to help lower costs for working families by funding access to affordable healthcare and lower housing costs, ensuring the expanded Child Tax Credit benefits that recently expired could be extended for another four years, significantly lower the cost of childcare for working families and more.

If that revenue was distributed to the states based on historical levels of federal grants to state budgets, Wisconsin could gain about $600 million or $935 million a year for 10 years, respectively, from the Biden and Wyden billionaires tax plans. This is based on budget data from the National Association of State Budget Officers. Between 2019 and 2021, federal grant funds made up an average of about 26% of Wisconsin’s state budget.

Federal grant funds to states pay for numerous programs and services: healthcare (Medicaid and CHIP), childcare, food and nutrition (SNAP, WIC), education (Head Start, Title I and IDEA), housing, transportation (highways, airports, and mass transit), public safety and much more. These funds represent nearly one-third of state budgets on average and nearly one-quarter of state and local budgets combined. Additional funds generated by a billionaires income tax could be used to lower costs to the state’s working families for vital services like healthcare, childcare and housing.

The potential of $600 million or $935 million a year in federal grants would add about 1.1% or 1.7% to the state’s budget, respectively, based on an average of the state’s budgets between 2019 and 2021.

“No matter our backgrounds, most of us work hard for our families and pay the taxes we owe,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “It’s our work that makes America prosper, but a greedy few have rigged our country’s rules and tax system to redirect public money away from our communities to their own pockets. Now these ultra-wealthy few and the politicians on their side stir fears and attempt to divide us, hoping we will blame everyday people for the hardships these wealthy few create. Together, we can demand Congress rewrite the rules so the wealthiest people in our state and country pay what they owe and no longer stand in the way of our communities getting the resources we need to live safe, healthy, and happy lives.”

“The failure to tax increases in billionaire wealth from skyrocketing corporate stock and other investments is the worst loophole in our loophole-ridden tax code. Workers pay tax on their income all year, every year. Simple justice demands that billionaires do the same,” said Frank Clemente, Executive Director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress should close this loophole in the legislation members are now negotiating to help families cope with rising prices and make major investments in clean energy, all paid for by more fairly taxing the rich and corporations.”

Over the two years since the national COVID emergency was announced in March 2020, the wealth of America’s billionaires has climbed by $2 trillion or 70% to a total of $5 trillion, as of April 5. The total number of billionaires has increased from 614 to 741. [See national table] Among the notable increases in wealth:

  • Elon Musk: The driving force behind Tesla and SpaceX saw his wealth skyrocket by over 11-fold, or $266 billion, to settle at $290 billion.

  • Jeff Bezos: The man who started Amazon is now worth nearly $190 billion, after an $77 billion leap in wealth during the pandemic.

  • Larry Page, Sergei Brin: The Google co-founders saw their wealth climb more than 133% – and are now worth $119 billion and $114 billion respectively.

This billionaires’ bonanza has played out against the pandemic pall: 1,585,996 Wisconsin residents have contracted COVID-19 and 14,317 have died from it. Many small businesses have closed, daily life has been disrupted and the cost of everything from housing to gas has consumed a greater share of household incomes. Although prompt and ample federal action prevented much worse economic consequences from COVID and helped to speed recovery, businesses and families will once again face perils as many of these interventions expire shortly.

Millions of families, for instance, could face steep increases in healthcare premiums or loss of insurance coverage in the second half of this year as pandemic responses fall away:

  • Medicaid Coverage: Early in the pandemic, as millions of Americans lost jobs and healthcare coverage, Congress passed the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act that covered many more people. The federal government increased matching funds to states and ensured that Medicaid enrollees would be continuously covered through the duration of the public health emergency. Once the public health emergency expires—which it is expected to do this year—as many as 13 million people could lose health coverage over the next 12 months. In Wisconsin, about 250,000 of the state’s 1,237,000 Medicaid patients could lose their coverage, according to an Urban Institute study (see table 2).

  • Closing the Medicaid Coverage Gap: COVID relief measures in 2020 and 2021 provided opportunities for a dozen states, including Wisconsin, to finally implement Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by providing 100% matching funds from the federal government to cover the cost. Although Governor Evers included this expansion in the 2022-2023 budget as in previous ones, the Republican-controlled legislature did not pass it.

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA) Coverage: Congress and the Biden Administration also took action to make private insurance more affordable during COVID by passing the American Rescue Plan, which provided enhanced premium assistance to help more people buy ACA coverage. This resulted in record high enrollment in insurance marketplace plans this year. However, the enhanced premium assistance that saved individuals over $800 last year, will expire at the end of 2022 if Congress does not take action. This will price millions nationwide out of coverage, among them many of the roughly 192,000 ACA policy holders in Wisconsin.

Continuing affordable healthcare coverage for millions of America’s working families would cost about $50 billion a year. That cost could be covered by Sen. Wyden’s tax on just the nation’s 700 or so richest households, preventing hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents from losing health care.

“It’s time to get our priorities straight. No one in our country, no matter where they live or how much money they have, should lose healthcare because they can’t afford coverage while billionaires get richer and avoid paying any taxes toward supporting the economy,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director of Health Care for America Now.

Wisconsin organizations are calling on the state’s congressional delegation to take a position on increasing taxes for billionaires through the enactment of a billionaires income tax like those proposed by President Biden and Senator Wyden. As Congress prepares to debate a package that will include some tax increases for the wealthy, local advocates are asking every Member of the Wisconsin delegation to endorse a resolution calling for billionaires to pay their fair share.

Current proposals to create a billionaires income tax represent a historic change in direction away from decades of proliferating tax breaks and wider loopholes for the wealthy that have contributed to a growing wealth gap between the nation’s richest families and everyone else. President Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TJCA), the last major tax legislation passed by Congress, provided $1.9 trillion in tax giveaways mainly to the rich and corporations while working and middle income families saw few benefits.

“Sen. Ron Johnson supports a plan from Sen. Rick Scott, the chair of the GOP Senate campaign committee that includes hiking taxes on the bottom half of the U.S. population. But he’s yet to endorse a tax on billionaires or propose closing any tax loopholes benefiting the rich and corporations,” noted Matt Brusky, Deputy Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin “Nothing could more clearly show where Sen. Johnson’s sympathies and priorities lie: with our nation’s and state’s billionaires, not with the working people of Wisconsin.”

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