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Billionaire Philanthropist Tom Steyer on Biden's tax proposals

Former Democratic Presidential Candidate and Billionaire Philanthropist Tom Steyer talks to Yahoo Finance Live about President Elect Joe Biden's tax proposals and the call for more taxes to be levied against the wealthy.

Video Transcript

- More on this, we want to bring in our next guest, Tom Steyer. He's a billionaire philanthropist, and was a rival of President-elect Joe Biden during the Democratic primaries.

And Tom, thanks for joining us here, taking the time to join the program. We're talking about the odds of whether or not Biden will actually be able to get some of his tax plan through Congress. But if we do see Biden raise the corporate taxes, if we do see him raise individual taxes, what does that mean for investors out there?

TOM STEYER: Well, I agree with President-elect Biden that it's absolutely fair and just to have a-- to erase some of these taxes. And I think that what we've seen in COVID is the exacerbation of economic inequality in our society. And if we're going to get the kind of programs of relief, if we're going to get the climate program that people are looking for, and the COVID relief program, then it's going to be necessary to have some more money at the federal level. And I think that it's completely appropriate at a time of record inequality and increasing inequality across our society to ask the biggest corporations and the richest people to pay a fair share, so that as a society, we can move forward in a just way.

- Tom, what argument could the incoming administration make to convince those opposed to say, for instance, raising the capital gains tax? Or for that matter, why don't we just tax income and get away with all of these loopholes?

TOM STEYER: Well, I think, you know, as an investor-- as someone who is a professional investor for decades, I have always felt that it was fair to tax income in similar ways, based on how much you make. And I think that there are loopholes within investment taxes. I think they are levels that have been reduced to their lowest levels.

And I also think that Joe Biden has brought in a great experienced and fair-minded group of people to look at this, including Janet Yellen to be the Treasury Secretary.

You know, we have a bunch of people with great success in terms of administering our economy with great fairness, people with the deep trust of the American people. And I think what they're talking about is very sensible and fair. And let's not get away from the fact that this COVID really exacerbated income inequalities in our country. And we brought in a team with the experience to do it right, to get it right, and to stand up for working people across this country.

RICK NEWMAN: Tom, I live in one of the states, California, that was directly affected-- heavily affected by that $10,000 limit on the deductibility of state and local taxes. So some Democrats want to repeal that limit. The catch for Democrats of course, is that this benefits wealthy people more than ordinary people. What's your view on whether Democrats should try to do this, repeal that limit on the SALT deductions?

TOM STEYER: Look, obviously the Trump tax bill supported by Republicans exclusively was an attempt to give money to big corporations and rich people, and to punish blue states which are the places where we have high state taxes, so that we can have important programs to support working people, young people, and seniors. And so we need to be taking a holistic look at this whole program.

But to me the big question here is, do we have a progressive income tax? Which right now there isn't. Rich people are paying a lower percentage of their income than working class people right now. It's time for us to go back to a tax program that is progressive where people pay a fair share, and the rates actually go up over time.

You know we have a bank. I started a bank 15 years ago to try and make the financial system work for low income people, for people of color, and for women. And it's time for our society to take that approach, and to try and give people a fair opportunity, and to make rich people and big corporations pay their fair share. Joe Biden is absolutely right on this.

RICK NEWMAN: Tom, you've done a lot of work on climate change and the types of new policies we need to deal with global warming. You talked about that a lot when you were running for president last year.

What is going to be easy for Biden to get done, and what are the hard things going to be?

TOM STEYER: Well, I think you can separate what's easy and what's hard into what he can do on his own, and what he needs congressional approval to do.

So things like rejoining Paris, making appointments and rebuilding the staff at the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy, those are things that he can do on his own. He needs Congress to come along with him in terms of the big plan to rebuild America in a clean way, to use it specifically to undo environmental injustice in black and brown communities, and to build union jobs across this country.

But I think you can see, this is a administration that is coming in with momentum, where they've done a great job in terms of building the administration itself, and being ready to go on day one. And I think that kind of momentum, where you can start with the things you absolutely can do and move to the things where you need support, and when things get going, I think you're going to see that this 100-day plan that the Biden Harris administration is going to start with on Thursday is going to be very, very cohesive, thoughtful. And in my mind, I am extremely optimistic about it being very successful.

- We've already heard from President-elect Biden, soon to be President Biden, about the climate national emergency. Here's some of what he said.

JOE BIDEN: Just like we need to be a unified nation in response to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change. We need to meet the moment with the urgency demands as you would during any national emergency. And from this crisis-- from these crises, I should say-- we need to seize that opportunity to build back and build back better than we were before. [AUDIO OUT]

- In a special presidential envoy for climate, ambassador Kerry-- John Kerry. And also first-time ever a science advisor to the President, Eric Lander. How much change, or how much impact are they going to have?

TOM STEYER: Well, I think that it's absolutely critical that President-elect Biden made those appointments. But I think it goes way beyond that. Because I think what he's saying is we need to be unified, and he wants his administration to be unified on this. And that means that the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State, you know, the Secretary of Housing and Transportation, everybody is going to be seeing climate as a framework for their decision-making.

And I think that attitude about addressing problems together really brought together a special coalition in the campaign that included environmental justice advocates, it included labor union leaders, and it included people from the community of young people. But especially, I think we're going to see an incredible contribution here made by American business.

But the private sector is going to understand that in the world we're in as of tomorrow, clean energy is a given. And it's also a multitrillion-dollar opportunity. And we're going to see business in the private sector really execute within the framework that the government sets up. And really if we don't, we're going to lose out to China and Europe. American jobs are going to be at risk.

And so I see American business leadership on this as not only critical, but again, I am very optimistic. If you're reading what people are saying, if you look how the market is treating the future, if you really see what's going on in the world, you can see American business is poised to go back and retake leadership on this, because it's clear that we're behind.

- Tom Steyer, thanks so much for joining us, billionaire philanthropist and former Democratic presidential candidate. And of course, our thanks to Yahoo Finance's Rick Newman.

RICK NEWMAN: Thanks, Jana.