ProPublica: Many of the uber-rich pay next to no income tax

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FILE - In this May 5, 2019, file photo Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, speaks during a game of bridge following the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb. The richest 25 Americans pay less in tax 15.8% of adjusted gross income than many ordinary workers do, once you include taxes for Social Security and Medicare, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica found, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – The rich really are different from you and me: They’re better at dodging the tax man.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011. Tesla founder Elon Musk’s income tax bill was zero in 2018. And financier George Soros went three straight years without paying federal income tax, according to a report Tuesday from the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

Overall, the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax — an average of 15.8% of adjusted gross income — than many ordinary workers do, once you include taxes for Social Security and Medicare, ProPublica found. Its findings are likely to heighten a national debate over the vast and widening inequality between the very wealthiest Americans and everyone else.

An anonymous source delivered to ProPublica reams of Internal Revenue Service data on the country’s wealthiest people, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. ProPublica compared the tax data it received with information available from other sources. It reported that “in every instance we were able to check — involving tax filings by more than 50 separate people — the details provided to ProPublica matched the information from other sources.’’

Using perfectly legal tax strategies, many of the uber-rich are able to shrink their federal tax bills to nothing or close to it.

A spokesman for Soros, who has supported higher taxes on the rich, told ProPublica that the billionaire had lost money on his investments from 2016 to 2018 and so did not owe federal income tax for those years. Musk responded to ProPublica's initial request for comment with a punctuation mark — “?'' — and did not answer detailed follow-up questions.

The federal tax code is meant to be progressive — that is, the rich pay a steadily higher tax rate on their income as it rises. And ProPublica found, in fact, that people earning between $2 million and $5 million a year paid an average of 27.5%, the highest of any group of taxpayers.

Above $5 million in income, though, tax rates fell: The top .001% of taxpayers — 1,400 people who reported income above $69 million — paid 23%. And the 25 very richest people paid still less.