Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2023


If Elon Musk can buy Twitter, he can pay his fair share in taxes

Rising inflation and the escalating cost of everything from gas to houses made Tax Day this year more memorable for some Americans than in past years. Rising economic anxiety is bound to collide with middle-class tax bills as families worry about the future and make plans to tighten their belts over the short-term.

But the nation’s roughly 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 increased their wealth substantially during the past two years. Elon Musk, as of Friday, had an estimated net worth of $218.6 billion. It doesn’t sound nearly as large as it actually is.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Say that you made $100,000 a day. It would take you 6,947 years to catch up to Musk’s level of fortune. This wealth is obscene. That’s the only way to describe it, when millions of people are struggling with the basics; one person having that kind of wealth is obscene.

Yet, thanks to our skewed tax code, they won’t have to pay more in taxes like the rest of us do.

In Nevada, the Fertitta family, which closed the Fiesta Henderson, has enough wealth to burn $100,000 every single day for 74.5 years.No one needs that amount of wealth.

The concentration of growing wealth among the top .01% of Americans is astounding. The nation’s billionaires now collectively control more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined — that’s roughly 0.00002% of the population owning as much as 165 million people. That massive wealth doesn’t just enable the billionaires to buy rocket ships and professional sports teams,it also gives them unfettered political power to keep the rules rigged in their favor.

When it comes to taxes, for example, the ultra-wealthy don’t follow the rules that the rest of us live by — they have their own. Loopholes and tax breaks enable many wealthy people to consistently pay lower tax rates than nurses, fire-fighters and accountants.

While the rest of us pay taxes on the income we earn from work, the wealthy pay nothing on gains they earn from stocks and other financial assets — their chief source of income.

When we get a raise at our jobs, 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.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Wealthy people could continue to be wealthy while paying what they owe in taxes like the rest of us. But Congress needs to act on good proposals that would finally require the richest people in America to pay a fairer share of taxes than they currently do.

President Joe Biden and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have proposed different versions of a billionaires income tax that would require rich people with hundreds of millions or billions in wealth assets to pay taxes on the annual increases in their wealth generated by stock and other assets, the same way the rest of us pay taxes on our income from work. Polling shows this policy is widely supported — by 64% of voters overall and 61% of independents.

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.

If Congress took action to make the rich abide by some of the same tax rules that apply to everyone else, the rich would stay rich but the rest of us — who helped make people like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk rich in the first place — would benefit from that wealth, too.

Cassandra Rice is a local businesswoman who owns Gymcats Gymnastics and Dance Center in Henderson.