SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gabe Bankman-Fried, a former Wall Street trader, has raised $12 million from a cryptocurrency trading firm founded by his brother, Sam Bankman-Fried. Dustin Moskovitz, a billionaire who roomed with Mark Zuckerberg in college and helped found Facebook in 2004, funds a nonprofit with his wife that has ponied up $6.5 million.
And Max Henderson, a startup investor and former Google executive, is using that money to spearhead a campaign for a statewide ballot initiative that would tax California’s wealthiest residents and fund public health initiatives, with the ambitious goal of preventing another pandemic from ripping across the country.
These entrepreneurs have applied their tech and data expertise to COVID-related philanthropic ventures. They say government must dramatically increase its investments in the crumbling public health system considering how unprepared California and the U.S. were for the COVID-19 crisis.
The proposed tax would generate as much as $15 billion over 10 years, according to a state government analysis of the measure, which organizers say is close to qualifying for the November ballot.
“We’ve spent trillions of dollars responding to COVID-19, but we’ve done very little to prevent the next pandemic,” Gabe Bankman-Fried said.
Californians this year will decide on a slew of health care-related initiatives and tax proposals. Voter support for raising taxes appears tepid, however. Californians in 2020 rejected a measure that sought to raise some commercial property taxes, and taxpayer advocates argue that opposition to higher taxes has intensified as gas, housing, and other costs have risen.
The public health initiative, called the “California Pandemic Early Detection and Prevention Act,” would impose an additional tax “at the rate of 0.75 percent on that portion of a taxpayer’s taxable income” that exceeds $5 million. The tax would last for 10 years, through 2032, and generate $500 million to $1.5 billion annually, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
The campaign had raised nearly $19 million as of early April, according to organizers and state records. Organizers expect the measure to qualify for the November ballot because the campaign has gathered nearly all of the 1 million signatures required. The signatures must be validated by the California secretary of state.
If the measure passes, half the proceeds would fund an institute to detect and prevent new disease outbreaks, 25% would pay for safety upgrades at schools, and 25% would help rebuild local public health workforces and infrastructure.
“We’re lucky to have cutting-edge technology here to make sure we never see these economic and school shutdowns ever again,” Henderson said. “Our vision is to put the systems in place to prevent the next pandemic. It’s not going to happen at the federal level, but California can lead.”