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How are our billionaires holding up through COVID?

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If you were worried about how our billionaires are riding out COVID-19, no need: they’re doing OK.

The collective wealth of Virginia’s eight billionaires increased $7 billion between mid-March of last year and Jan. 29 of this year, according to a report out Thursday from Americans for Tax Fairness, Health Care for America Now and Virginia Organizing.

To put that $7 billion into perspective: our billionaires here in Virginia could decide as a group to fund COVID relief checks of $822 for the other 8.5 million Virginians and still be as wealthy as they were before the pandemic hit.

“Billionaires have been reaping bushels of pandemic profits the last 10 months while many working families are reeling, state and local services are suffering, and jobs are disappearing,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness.

But, hey, now, that’s class warfare, there, putting it that way.

That $7 billion for our Virginia billionaires – or the staggering increase in the total wealth of the nation’s 661 billionaires of $1.2 trillion – that’s fair and square capitalism.

Capitalism: a winners-and-losers prop bet.

The winners: our billionaires.

The losers: the roughly 200,000 in the Commonwealth who lost their jobs during the recession, many of whom left in limbo waiting for benefits because of the overload on the severely underfunded Virginia Employment Commission.

That this is ongoing as federal lawmakers dither over the fine print on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that would boost the fortunes of those out of work, of the owners of the 3,100 small businesses closed during pandemic – 60 percent of them permanently.

One in seven renters in Virginia is behind on their rent.

One in seven kids in Virginia is going hungry.

Meanwhile:

  • Candy company heiresses Jacqueline and Pamela Mars are together worth over $36 billion. Jacqueline, who lives in Fauquier County, saw her wealth jump by more than $4 billion; and Pamela, of Alexandria, got a little over $1 billion richer. Both fortunes increased by about 17 percent.
  • The net worth of Vienna resident Daniel D’Aniello, co-founder and chairman of private equity fund The Carlyle Group, leaped by almost a quarter, moving up from $2.9 billion to $3.6 billion.
  • Virginia Beach’s Winifred J. Marquart, descendant of the inventor of Johnson’s wax and heiress to the cleaning-product fortune he began, enjoyed an over $600 million hike in her wealth, up over 18 percent to $3.9 billion.

“Hospitals need more supplies and machines like ventilators,” said Goldie Wells, a Virginia Organizing leader in Portsmouth, who hopes to see Congress send more federal aid for her local government. “Schools need money because children need to go to school safely and not bring the disease back home. I am going to get the vaccine soon, hopefully, but I’m still waiting to hear back from the health department. If Portsmouth had more money, maybe they could get the vaccines out faster.”

Rees Shearer in Abingdon also wants to see more funding for education.

“Before the pandemic hit, Washington County, Virginia, ranked 110th out of 132 Virginia localities in education spending per student,” Shearer said. “That was before schools were forced to go virtual and students fell further behind or off the screen altogether. Now, our schools have a mountain to climb to bring students up to grade level, but even fewer resources to do it. Our kids needed help a year ago, but we need it even more, now.”

“Republicans in the Senate keep trying to pare down the $1.9 trillion Biden pandemic relief plan that would save jobs and services in states and provide millions of people healthcare, unemployment protection, and paid leave with excuses about targeting support to those who need it most,” said Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now.

“But those excuses are more hollow than ever in a pandemic where billionaires are getting richer as everyone else struggles.”

President Biden’s “build back better” tax and investment plans could address immediate needs created by the pandemic and put the nation on a trajectory toward economic growth that restores the middle class, good jobs, healthcare, and equitable opportunity for everyone to prosper.

Even Wall Street analysts praise the plan because of the jobs and growth it would create.

A key component is tax reform that would begin to ensure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. Biden’s tax plan would transform huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation by both raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes that allow the rich to delay, diminish, and even avoid paying the taxes they owe on wealth increases.

President Biden and the new Congress could make structural changes to level the playing field so that the rich are taxed more like the rest of us.

A number of approaches will be debated in Congress, including an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, proposed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair, Ron Wyden.

Even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income, if Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, Virginia billionaires would be paying over a billion dollars in extra taxes this spring thanks to their gargantuan pandemic profits last year, helping to address the pandemic’s impact and keeping the economy afloat.

None of that will actually happen, of course.

Biden is actively trying to triangulate in the name of bipartisanship.

We’ll end up just borrowing the money for COVID relief, because that way the billionaires can make more money through the financing.

You don’t get to be a billionaire – in a position to enrich yourselves even during a pandemic – not knowing the power of leverage.

There I go again, engaging in class warfare.

Story by Chris Graham


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