A tax on extreme wealth is a priority because California’s long-neglected needs have extreme consequences for hard-working families.
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By Jeff Freitas, Special to CalMatters
Jeff Freitas is president of the California Federation of Teachers, JeffFreitas@cft.org.
Housing affordability, racial inequity, getting California back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic – these are California voters’ priorities, according to the most recent poll from the respected and non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California.
Yet a crucial opportunity to act on – or even to debate – these priorities will pass by if the California Tax on Extreme Wealth (ACA 8 and Assembly Bill 310) doesn’t get a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation.
A tax on extreme wealth is a priority because California’s long-neglected needs have extreme consequences for hard-working families, vulnerable children and California’s future. Latino and Black workers – disproportionately represented in frontline, low-wage work during the pandemic – faced extreme risks on the job and lost their lives in heart-wrenching numbers.
California families and children still face extreme financial insecurity – one in seven adults went hungry in the last week; a temporary reprieve on rent during the pandemic is a mounting debt that will have to be repaid, $3.6 billion by some estimates.
While working Californians saw their debts and worries mount, California billionaires saw their fortunes expand by more than $599 billion since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After COVID-19 had such a devastatingly unequal effect on Californians, educators and classified professionals know we have to build back better. That’s why it makes sense to establish a tax on extreme wealth.
A tax of one penny per dollar on wealth over $50 million and 1.5 cents per dollar on wealth over $1 billion would enable California to tackle the biggest challenges in our state and emerge healthier, more equitable and put our children in a far stronger position to succeed. Not only will this tax raise more than $22 billion a year, but according to the scientific studies on migration of very wealthy people, it would do so without causing the extremely wealthy to leave the state en masse.
Teaching in our classrooms and online, serving students school lunches and keeping them safe on school grounds, California’s educators and classified professionals see the cost of extreme inequality up close.
Kids who sleep in cars can’t come to school prepared to learn. Schools funded at 39th in the nation send even the youngest learners the message that they don’t deserve a world-class education. Students set their dreams lower when they know they can’t afford to go to college without breaking the family bank or taking on debt they can never repay.
The Assembly members on the Revenue and Taxation committee have a few weeks to schedule debate on a measure that would allow voters to decide to tax extreme wealth. Choosing not to do so will effectively block the bill and bind us to a pre-pandemic status quo of extreme inequality.
California now has 172 billionaires, up by 18 since the start of the pandemic, and their extreme wealth continues to pile up month after month. Now our elected leaders in Sacramento have a choice – sit by while the extremely wealthy continue to reap pandemic profits, or invest in hard-working Californians.
Will the state Legislature push forward in the aftermath of COVID-19 by asking for less than 2 cents from billionaires? Or will our state government do right by our families who continue to struggle as the extremely rich get richer? Let’s debate a wealth tax in the open, pass AB 310 and ACA 8, and let the voters decide what kind of California we can be.
Jeff Freitas has also written about California’s school waivers place the safety of students, teachers, families at risk.