In late June, when Governor Ducey and the Republican-led legislature forced through a massive tax cut for the wealthy, new and expectant mothers were still waiting for Arizona to expand postpartum coverage. In late July, when the latest billionaire launched into space from west Texas, more than 250,000 Arizona households with children didn’t have enough food to eat.
We’re now a year and a half into the Covid pandemic and one thing is clear: while millions of us have struggled with anxiety, sickness and hardship, a handful of wealthy individuals have profited handsomely during this crisis. The nation’s 708 billionaires, including 11 Arizona tycoons, have amassed $1.8 trillion on top of their existing wealth between March 2020 and August 17, 2021.
It’s not surprising that the rich keep getting richer even in the worst of times. The real question is whether lawmakers will ever require them to pay their fair share so that the rest of us can also have opportunities for prosperity, financial security and mobility. While we’ve tried to address some of this inequity in Arizona, there is much more to do and some of the improvements are bigger than only one state.
Ending prescription drug price-gouging, making health coverage more affordable for people of all ages, fixing tax loopholes that allow billionaires and CEOs to get away with paying less taxes than their employees–all of these issues and many more must be solved in Congress. And this year, Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to make long overdue investments in everything we need and rebalance the economy. In just a few weeks, Congress will consider a once-in-a-generation legislation called “Build Back Better” that would ensure millions more people get a fair shot at the kind of opportunity and mobility we all believe is possible in our country.
Arizona’s federal lawmakers will have the opportunity to lower drug prices through Medicare negotiations, make insurance premiums more affordable, expand services for seniors, invest in education and affordable childcare and finally implement a paid leave program that would provide workers with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. And, after years of loopholes and tax dodging, the bill would require the rich and corporations to finally pay their fair share of taxes to finance these investments as part of building a more equitable economy.
That means that instead of going to space or buying a second yacht or a fifth home in the same neighborhood, the billionaires in this country will actually be accountable for contributing fair taxes to support the country that has helped generate their wealth. And corporations making massive profits while paying no income taxes will finally have to pay their fair share to support the economy, just like mom-and-pop businesses and families do.
Arizona voters support Biden’s Build Back Better plan to help working families, especially when they understand that it’s paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. According to a poll of 500 state voters in July by a margin of 65% to 28%, Arizonans want to see Congress level the playing field and reshape the economy to work for everyone, not just a handful of billionaires and Wall Street corporations.
Lowering insurance premiums and making prescriptions more affordable, expanding home based services, funding education and childcare and asking wealthy people to pay the same tax rate on dividends that the rest of us pay on our wages and salaries are common sense policies for everyone except elected leaders who clearly feel more accountable to their corporate donors than to their constituents.
That’s, in fact, the real choice that Arizona’s elected leaders in Congress are facing this fall: will they ask the 11 billionaires in our state who have doubled their wealth from $22 billion to $57.4 billion since the start of the pandemic to pay more in taxes? If our elected officials are willing to stand up to the billionaires, 60 year olds in Arizona who get ACA coverage can save $500 a month on premiums; 278,000 students can get bigger Pell grants for college and 110 million Americans can get paid family and medical leave in case they need to care for a sick relative, a new baby, or handle an acute medical emergency like cancer or injury.
This should be a simple choice yet already some are generating political controversy rather than just doing the job they are elected to do: represent their constituents. That’s the basic duty and responsibility of every elected leader, no matter what body or at what level they serve. As elected leaders, we should be clear that voters aren’t confused about the issues. Arizonans will be watching the federal debate closely to see which lawmakers are on the side of small business, families, and workers and which of them, once again, side with the billionaires and special interests.
Sen. Martin Quezada is the Minority Whip in the Arizona Senate. He has represented parts of the West Valley in the state legislature since 2012