For the wealthy, less in taxes is not always more

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You thought only conservatives got mad about taxes?

Tea partiers, eat your hearts out: A group of liberals got together Tuesday and proved that they, too, can have a tax rebellion. But theirs is a little bit different: They want to pay more taxes.

"I'm in favor of higher taxes on people like me," declared Eric Schoenberg, who is sitting on an investment banking fortune. He complained about "my absurdly low tax rates."

"We're calling on other wealthy taxpayers to join us," said paper-mill heir Mike Lapham, "to send the message to Congress and President Obama that it's time to roll back the tax cuts on upper-income taxpayers."

"I would with pleasure sacrifice the income," agreed millionaire entrepreneur Jeffrey Hollender.

The rich are different.

In another era, the millionaires on Tuesday's conference call might have been called "limousine liberals." But that label no longer applies. Now any wealthy liberal worth his certified-organic sea salt is driving a Prius.

For them, Obama's plan to "spread the wealth" (by raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000) is too conservative. "The Obama plan we don't think goes far enough," Lapham protested. "We think probably more like the top 5 percent should have their taxes raised." That would be those above $200,000. "Or go beyond that," he suggested.

With April 15 a week away, many Americans are feeling right about now that they are paying entirely too much. But the millionaires say they see the beginning of a grass-roots movement of the angry under-taxed wealthy.

"The bottom line is the public is on our side," said Brian Miller, executive director of United for a Fair Economy, which is organizing the anti-anti-tax rebellion. As evidence, he pointed to a Quinnipiac University poll from March that found 60 percent of Americans favored raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000. This is not surprising: Americans generally favor raising taxes on the rich, as long as they are not defined as rich themselves.

But Miller also pointed to a surprising finding in the poll: Among families earning more than $250,000, fully 64 percent favor raising taxes on themselves. This part was surprising -- but possibly suspect. Only 65 of the 1,907 people polled were in that income group, too small a sample for solid conclusions.

Still, the millionaires on the call get credit for putting (some of) their money where their mouths are. They are among 50 families with net assets of more than $1 million to take a "tax fairness" pledge -- donating the amount they saved from Bush tax cuts to organizations fighting for the repeal of the Bush tax cuts. According to a study by Spectrem Group, 7.8 million households in the United States have assets of more than $1 million -- so that leaves 7,799,950 millionaire households yet to take the pledge.

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