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Two men hope to make Colorado the first state to redistribute income

DENVER — Two Denver-area activists are looking to make Colorado one of the first states to test a theory that the redistribution of income empowers the poor and leads them to contribute positively to the economy.

Kevin Neal Patterson II, the son of Connect for Health Colorado Chief Executive officer Kevin Patterson, and Eric Leveridge, a policy analyst for United for a New Economy (UNE), have filed more than a dozen ballot proposals hoping to change the state’s constitution so that those earning above $300,000 per year will pay a much higher income tax.

That money would then be redistributed to anyone who qualifies for the Earned Income Tax Credit, generally those who earn under $70,000.

UNE was involved in raising Colorado’s minimum wage.

The idea of direct cash payments, however, doesn’t belong to Patterson and Leveridge, instead, the timing of the filings very closely coincides with the release of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’ new book, Fair Shot, which outlines his idea that wage earners in the top 1 percent should pay the way for those less fortunate.

Hughes calls the plan Guaranteed Income. Variations of the idea have been put forth as far back as the 1960s by Martin Luther King Jr. and economist Milton Friedman.

Hughes’ organization The Economic Security Project is currently funding a pilot project to test the idea in Stockton, Calif. known as Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED).

SEED will begin giving qualifying residents of Stockton $500 per month later this year to help stimulate the economy and help low income residents out of poverty, the projects website says.

Hughes said in a 2016 blog:

“Put simply, in a time when all other economic stimulus tools have been tried or filibustered and median incomes have not budged, cash transfers could be the necessary spark to improve the standard of living of American households.”

The two Colorado men have their own histories of involvement in social causes. Leveridge’s biography on the UNE website says he has a passion for “economic justice.” He is originally from Oklahoma and started his career as an immigration law and policy and international human rights attorney. He moved to Denver in 2015.

Patterson’s Facebook page depicts multiple Black Lives Matters protests and events across the county that he has either attended or helped organize.

All the proposals have either already had their titles set or are being reviewed by the Legislative Council staff.  They are all similar in that the new taxes would pay for a tax credit program outlining a $2,000 refundable tax credit — either monthly or in one lump sum — for taxpayers who qualify for the Earned Income Credit.

The differences include:

  • Changing the income tax amount from a flat 4.63 percent paid by all Coloradans to 9.87 percent for those earning more than $300,000.
  • Changing the income tax amount from a flat 4.63 percent paid by all Coloradans to 11.8 percent for those earning more than $500,000.
  • How much can be retained by the state to pay for the program.
  • Allowing the tax credit to qualified caregivers.
  • Allowing the tax credit to students.

Neither Leveridge nor Hughes returned requests for comment. Patterson II could not be reached.

Before his current idea of increasing taxes on the 1-percenters, Hughes outlined a carbon tax to pay for the idea and pointed to the Bush administration during the recession as inspiration and proof his idea would work.

“Fortunately, in the United States there is recent precedent for helicopter money’s effectiveness and bipartisan appeal,” Hughes said in his blog. “In the spring of 2008 as the country teetered on the brink of what would become the Great Recession, a bipartisan majority in Congress approved a rebate plan that George W. Bush signed into law. Over the course of the spring of that year, all American adults making less than $75,000 received a check for $600 in the mail. While it wasn’t enough to stave off the recession, research in following years showed that it was a powerful boost to the economy with between 50 and 90 percent of the funds being spent by recipients, much of it on durable goods.”

Hughes said on his Twitter account that abolishing income inequality is a top priority for him: “I spend most of time thinking about how to combat income inequality through the guaranteed income.”



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