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SF’s Top Ten Billionaires Would Owe $45 Billion Under Biden’s Tax Proposal

Written by Maryann Jones Thompson, Kevin TruongPublished Mar. 30, 2022 • 6:30am
Larry Ellison (right) and team mate James Spithill celebrate after navigating his yacht to a win during the 33rd America's Cup. | Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

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President Joe Biden rankled some members of the ultra-wealthy when he unveiled a new tax proposal that is meant to target the unrealized capital gains of households worth more than $100 million. 

And few cities have more concerned residents than San Francisco. In fact, one researcher crowned the city as having the third-most billionaires in the world in 2019. 

A look at the latest Bloomberg Billionaires Index shows at least ten individuals who own homes in the city and also have assets valued at $8 billion or more, including Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Salesforce’s Mark Benioff and Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom also own significant swaths of Hawaiian islands.

Dubbed the “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax,” Biden’s policy is meant as a progressive revenue generator that is part of the administration’s 2023 budget proposal.

“In 2021 alone, America’s more than 700 billionaires saw their wealth increase by $1 trillion, yet in a typical year, billionaires like these would pay just 8% of their total realized and unrealized income in taxes,” the White House said in a statement. “A firefighter or teacher can pay double that tax rate.”

The administration said it wants to ensure that the wealthiest Americans pay a tax rate of at least 20% of their “full income,” which includes unrealized appreciation on their assets like stocks and bonds. If a household pays less than that rate, it will owe a “top-up” payment to meet the minimum benchmark. 

Many billionaires have the bulk of their wealth in public stock ownership, which are typically only taxed as capital gains when a profit is realized through the sale or disposition of an asset, according to Annette Nellen, director of San Jose State’s graduate tax program.

“Assets go up in value but they’re only taxed when they are realized,” Nellen said. “That’s the way the law’s been for a very long time.”

Billionaires are still able to borrow against these assets, meaning they can financially benefit from these holdings tax-free without having to sell them and pay the capital gains tax. 

Biden’s plan would tax assets that increase in value—for example,  tech stock whose price booms—even if they aren’t sold on the market. Biden’s proposal would give households nine years to pay taxes on what it considers previously unrealized income.

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To determine the impact of the proposed tax, The Standard took a page from UC Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman’s calculations of the top 10 billionaires in the United States. (Find out more about Zucman’s methodology in the table notes.)

According to the White House, the proposal would raise some $360 billion over the next decade from the estimated 20,000 wealthiest households in the United States. 

Politically at least, the idea appears to be facing an uphill battle with moderates like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin already stating their opposition to the measure. But that doesn’t mean that the Biden administration is giving up just yet, particularly with hundreds of billions of dollars at stake for the president’s key policy priorities. 

“This approach means that the very wealthiest Americans pay taxes as they go, just like everyone else, and eliminates the inefficient sheltering of income for decades or generations,” the White House said.

Additional research by Shelley Fargo.

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Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]




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