A national open letter from Millionaires for Humanity affirms a crucial tool for an equitable recovery from the pandemic: “Tax us. Tax us. Tax us.”
We echo this call to lawmakers in Massachusetts. As wealthy young people in the top 10%, we stand with the grassroots movement advancing progressive taxes for public relief and infrastructure. New revenues proposed by Raise Up Massachusetts would tax those who are faring well despite the pandemic. Taxes on corporate profits and unearned income could generate over $1 billion. Another $300 million could be saved by delaying a new tax deduction for charitable giving. The need in our state is great, and wealthy people like us can afford it recognizing that, for generations, our families and financial advisors have minimized how much taxes we pay each year through trusts and investing.
Since March, as over one million Massachusetts workers have filed for unemployment, 18 Massachusetts billionaires increased their collective net worth by nearly $17 billion. Our own safety is secure, protected by a stable housing, generous salaries and benefits, elite degrees (without debt), and inheritances in the hundreds of thousands. While millions of people are at risk of being evicted because of government inaction, we are deciding which of our families’ vacation homes to escape to. While many are relying on an unstable unemployment system, we know that if we were to lose our jobs, we can dip into our trust funds without making a dent in its value. All because of decades of untaxed, accumulated wealth.
Our circumstances stand in contrast to the reality faced by working-class people, especially Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Among Massachusetts COVID-19 cases where race and ethnicity are known, Black and Latinx people make up twice or more their share of the population. These disparities are fueled by existing injustices, including poverty, overcrowding, and air pollution.
Private giving is important; we organized our families and networks to support the Mass Redistribution Fund and other funds dedicated to getting frontline communities immediate relief. But private giving cannot replace progressive taxes because only the government — not private donors — has the scope and authority to address systemic problems at their roots. Private giving can’t do what the Guaranteed Housing Stability Act could to avert a “tsunami of evictions” with an estimated 120,000 families at risk. Similarly, our giving can’t substitute for the Student Opportunity Act, which would fund under-resourced school districts in Lynn, Boston, Chelsea and Brockton, and other communities.
[P]rivate giving cannot replace progressive taxes because only the government -- not private donors -- has the scope and authority to address systemic problems at their roots.
In this time of extraordinary need, we are troubled that some of the wealthiest corporations in Massachusetts oppose progressive revenue measures, and instead make smaller, voluntary and tax-deductible charitable contributions — as if these could substitute. Corporations like Bain Capital, State Street and Liberty Mutual contributed to the combined $65 million raised by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund and the Boston Resiliency Fund, helping alleviate some impacts. But they are falling far short of their fair share of the billions needed to fully address this crisis.
The business lobby groups these corporations help lead — including the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF), the Massachusetts High-Technology Council (MHTC), and Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), continue to oppose common sense, progressive corporate taxes like GILTI, a tax on off-shore corporate income. These same groups sued to keep the popular Fair Share Amendment off the ballot, blocking a vote on a new tax on individual incomes over $1 million. The MHTC and AIM also joined corporations like Santander Bank and State Street in lobbying to expand the Single Sales Factor tax break for multi-state corporations.
Making public gestures of support for frontline communities while engaging in backroom efforts to undermine them is not uncommon.
LittleSis’ reporting exposed Amazon, Starbucks and Wells Fargo for proclaiming support for racial justice while simultaneously “propping up the police [through donations to police foundations] and starving Black and brown communities of the investment they deserve by not paying their fair share in taxes.” Private giving has been warped by some into a cynical exercise of power. Through private giving, corporations control how much, when and to what purposes they give, all with little public scrutiny.
Through private giving, corporations control how much, when and to what purposes they give, all with little public scrutiny.
Public revenue, on the other hand, funds governments better situated to craft democratically accountable budgets and policies to deliver goods and services for the public good. The urgent needs of the moment for Massachusetts are to create safe schools, secure access to housing, protect our democracy, and rebuild our economy. To meet those needs, the wealthy must contribute their fair share.
We have a duty to speak because we know our own families’ wealth comes from a system that values profits and corporations above people and communities. We are opposed to private giving that only serves to maintain the inequitable status quo and push for both individual and structural redistribution. We support and engage in social justice philanthropy to support local organizations, such as the Boston Ujima Project, Community Labor United (CLU), and Families for Justice as Healing (FJAH), that are fighting to transform the systemic inequities disproportionately affecting our low-income communities and communities of color.
So, finally, and for a change: Tax us. Tax wealthy individuals, tax wealthy corporations and let us invest in a just recovery and a more resilient society where everyone — not just millionaires and billionaires — can stay safe and flourish.
Elizabeth Baldwin, Ali Boreiko, and Sara Sargent are leaders of the Boston chapter of Resource Generation, a national, multiracial organization of young people with access to wealth or class privilege committed to the equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power.
Elizabeth Baldwin is a RG Action (c4) board member, who spends her time working on electoral politics and being a diversity, equity, inclusion consultant.
Sara Sargent is the Resource Mobilization Director at United for a Fair Economy. She is a graduate of Smith College and lives in Somerville, Mass.
Ali Boreiko is an elementary public-school teacher living and working in Greater Boston.