06:28 GMT15 May 2021
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    The new proposal, pushed by a legislator in the northwestern US state of Washington, would target four of the publicly known about wealthiest people on Earth, including Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott. All four call Washington their home state.

    Washington State’s wealthiest residents have been notably silent about a new legislative proposal for a 1 percent tax on the assets of individuals with a combined wealth of over $1 billion, Noel Frame, the bill’s sponsor, has said.

    “They have stayed very, very quiet during this conversation – and it’s not for lack of trying,” Frame, who introduced the “Washington State Wealth Tax” bill back in January, told Vox this week.

    “I talked to folks who talk to them, and they have chosen not to engage,” the Democratic lawmaker added, saying she had reached out to each of the individuals to discuss whether they would be interested in campaigning for the tax proposal, and that none of them got back to her about it.

    The 1 percent tax would be levied against billionaire wealth including cash, stocks, futures, and publicly trade options, but not income. The tax would have no impact on any of the state’s 7.7 million residents apart from the 13 known billionaires who live in Washington, and who are thought to have added a total of $151 billion to their collective fortunes over the past year.

    The silence comes despite Bezos’ public announcement last week that he would support President Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent (which would still be below the 35 percent rate that existed before the 2017 Trump tax cuts).

    Gates, meanwhile, has spent years publicly bragging about being in favour of higher taxes on the wealthy. Last year, the billionaire bemoaned America’s “unfair” tax system, and proposed raising the capital gains tax (i.e. taxes on investment profits), more reasonable state and local taxes, higher estate taxes, and closing various tax loopholes which the wealthy have traditionally used to avoid paying their fair share. He called the tax system of his home state of Washington, which doesn’t have an income tax, “the most regressive…in the country.”

    Both men made a killing off the coronavirus pandemic, with Bezos reportedly becoming $58 billion wealthier between March 2020 and March 2021, while Gates added $24 billion to his fortune during the same period (for a total of $177 billion and $151 billion, respectively).

    Ballmer’s wealth grew by $23 billion during the same period (with his total wealth now exceeding $75.5 billion). He too has recently said that he would “be happy personally to pay more taxes.” Scott, who instantly shot to billionaire status with her $38 billion divorce settlement from Bezos in 2019, saw her net worth climb to nearly $60 billion as of early 2021. She has not commented on tax policy, but described the coronavirus as “a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling.” She reportedly gave $4 billion to 384 different organisations and charities in 2020, and plans to give away more money in the years to come.

    Frame’s wealth tax proposal isn’t expected to pass in the current legislative session, which ends 25 April.

    Critics of state taxes have long argued that billionaires like Gates and Bezos could just pick up and move to another state where taxes are lower if their taxes become too high. Wealthy residents of states like California and New York have left for Texas and Florida in droves over the past year, particularly as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdowns and economic woes have caused their former home states to lose some of their charm and prestige.

    While it has pummelled most of the world’s economies, sent the planet into a recession, and left millions of people around the globe on the brink of homelessness and hunger, the coronavirus pandemic has also been very good for billionaires. The nine wealthiest Americans alone grew over $360 billion richer over the past year, while the world’s billionaires pocketed some $3.9 trillion in new wealth during the same period.

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