Sarah Godlewski: As senator, I'll tax wealth, including my own

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Today Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person on the planet, will blast himself into space. Coming days after mogul Richard Branson’s own historic rocket ride, it remains to be seen if this new billionaire space race is another giant leap for humankind, a vanity joyride for the super-rich, or both.

But as billionaires jockey with each other into the stars, urgent issues intensify here on Earth, like climate change, affordable health care and the survival of working families.

And those with the staggering wealth to address these problems pay comparative peanuts in federal income taxes. An explosive ProPublica report revealed the 25 wealthiest Americans saw their worth grow by $401 billion in the last decade — while paying a federal tax rate of just 3.4%. Sometimes they paid no federal income tax at all. Middle and working class families did not experience a similar benefit.

As state treasurer, working on homeownership, retirement and economic security, I know trickle-down economics is a farce. And growing up in Eau Claire, the daughter of public school teachers, working at Pizza Hut and Baker’s Square to put myself through college, I learned when you see something wrong, you do something about it.

As Wisconsin’s next U.S. senator, I’ll fight for a wholesale rewrite of the tax system, starting with an Elizabeth Warren-style wealth tax. Space-seeking mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos can buy a $500 million superyacht while paying a 1.1% effective federal tax rate, so a 2% tax on wealth of $50 million and above seems reasonable. And reversing Donald Trump and Ron Johnson’s tax giveaways to the ultra-wealthy — a modest 2.6% increase for the richest Americans — will generate $110 billion over the next decade.

This is how to tackle generational, existential crises.

At the same time, let’s lock in the 2017 middle-class tax cuts, make the child tax credit permanent, pass a new tax cut for the 99%, and help more than 300,000 Wisconsinites (about 20% of whom are people of color) by cementing the Earned Income Tax Credit expansion.

It’s also time to end the Swiss cheese tax code that big corporations manipulate. Donald Trump and Ron Johnson slashed corporate taxes by 40%, and goliath industries still maneuver effortlessly through our tax laws. One study estimates fossil fuel companies reap $62 billion annually in subsidies; another report reveals big pharmaceuticals increased their marketing budgets by more than $12 billion over the years — while deducting advertising expenses.

So let’s replace enormous oil subsidies with clean energy credits for electric vehicles, wind and solar power, and energy storage, and pass Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s bill to eliminate deductions for prescription drug advertising. As we demand more from big business, we must also help the millions of small businesses that form the backbone of the American economy. I will expand small business tax relief that incentivizes hiring and investments in equipment and inventory.

Finally, our tax system must help, not hurt, our family farms. Agriculture remains a way of life in Wisconsin, and a building block of our state’s economy. By making permanent the estate tax exemption for family farms, we can spare family farmers across the country from a looming, painful tax hike.

American billionaires saw astronomical increases in their wealth during the pandemic — so perhaps it’s no surprise some now devote their riches to rockets to the stratosphere. But to give working families, the middle class, small businesses, and family farms the help they need, those with more should pay more.

That includes me. While my family and I have nothing like the fortunes of Bezos and Branson, we have been fortunate. We benefit from a status quo that protects wealth and have been able to pay a lower rate than folks like my public school teacher parents. It’s a broken, regressive system, and as your U.S. senator I will right this wrong.

That means defeating extreme politicians like Ron Johnson, who solidify this corrosively unfair status quo. That’s the difference in this campaign, and why I’m running: Ron Johnson has helped entrench glaring tax inequalities with big cuts for the rich and corporations.

As a fifth-generation Wisconsinite, my focus is right here on planet Earth, fighting for Wisconsin workers and families.

Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski is running for U.S. Senate.

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