Three of the “Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength,” a group of 90 plus millionaires who signed a letter to President Obama asking him to allow the tax cuts on people with an income of $1 million or more each year to expire, say that despite their call to raise taxes, they will not pay the government more than they are required to, nor will they cut the government a personal check.
“I pay the taxes that I am required to pay, just like everybody else,” said Ron Garret, a software engineer turned angel investor who earned his fortune at Google. “I follow the law, I play by the rules, even when I don’t like the rules, even when I think the rules are wrong.”
In a democracy, he said, “the right way to address it…is to try to get the rules changed, not to go and play by your own rules.”
“I do everything I can to pay the least taxes that I’m required to pay,” said John Katzman, CEO of 2tor and founder of Princeton Review. “I’m not proposing that anybody decides to send a check to the government, and I’m not going to do that. The tax code was written to be followed, not to say it’s wrong.”
“I don’t bend over backwards to find every tax loophole,” he added, “but if I’m due a deduction, I take it.”
Does he see any hypocrisy in his calling for higher taxes, then?
“Not a bit.”
Morris Pearl, treasurer of the investment management firm BlackRock, echoed this sentiment. “I don’t want to pay more than my fair share,” he said, “but I don’t want to pay less either. Nobody wants to pay more taxes—that’s not the thing. But I think everyone wants to have the advantage of living in the greatest country in the world.”
He went on to note that tax cuts exist because “the government decided to encourage lots of different things, from home ownership to oil exploration,”
“I don’t think that’s evil,” he said, referring to taking tax breaks. “I think it’s following the rules, and doing what your leadership is telling you to do.”
All three took exception to the idea that instead of calling for higher taxes, they should just personally mail the government a check.
“The government is not a charity,” said both Garret and Katzman. “It cannot and should not be run like one,” added Garret. Pearl noted the same thing.
“I think that if you walk down that road,” Katzman said, “you might as well just say that all income tax should be voluntary.”
“I don’t think it should work out well,” he added.
The name of the group, the “Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength,” has prompted questions as to whether the signatories consider those who do not support higher taxes unpatriotic.
“Not at all. I never thought such a thing,” said Pearl.
“Disagreeing does not make you unpatriotic,” echoed Garret. “Patriotism is not a zero sum game.”
Katzman, however, was not so sure.
“I just signed the petition, I didn’t name it. There are a lot of ways to be patriotic,” he said.
But, Katzman continued, “the people who simply say everybody else should sacrifice, or none of us should sacrifice and we should leave this in our kids hands, yeah, I think that’s unpatriotic. You don’t have to want to pay higher taxes; you can accept lower services. But you can’t simply shift the burden to other people and think it’s fine.”
“Where is everybody stepping up and saying ‘I’m going to be part of the solution here,’ and not kind of just whining?” Katzman asked.
“It is responsible to say we need to cut government,” he said. “And again, it’s particularly responsible to say we need to cut government services to me. And it’s mildly selfish if we simply need to cut government services to everybody else. And just kind of silly to say that we don’t need to do anything and simply need to march along until the nation goes bankrupt.”
“So at some point,” he concluded, “it really crosses the line from merely selfish to really negligent.”
But for Michael Marks, chairman emeritus of the New York Mercantile Exchange, and president of his own private foundation called Somersault, quibbling about such things is “meaningless.”
Marks says he signed the letter because “it’s a gesture; it represents something that I would like to do to contribute in some way to the challenges that the country has.”
“I’ve been blessed with the ability to make money,” he said, “and with that for me comes the responsibility to do something with it.”
“Complaining is not going to get the country anywhere,” he continued. “For me the country’s stuck in the middle of a morass of issues, and there’s no one to blame, there’s no reason to go back and look in hindsight to see how we got here. To me the question is what can we all do individually and collectively to work together and collaborate and do something to address some of these issues.”
“Maybe that is a way to contribute, maybe there’s merit to that,” he said, referring to not taking tax breaks or sending a personal check to the government. “But that doesn’t concern me. To me this is my way of participating and contributing. If somebody says here’s a better way, I’m certainly open to that…show me a better way and I’ll sign up.”