How Much Richer Colorado's Ten Billionaires Got During the Pandemic

Charlie Ergen is currently Colorado's richest person, with a net worth valued at more than $12 billion as of last month.
Charlie Ergen is currently Colorado's richest person, with a net worth valued at more than $12 billion as of last month. YouTube file photo
During his September 14 visit to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, President Joe Biden focused on climate-change issues. But according to the White House, his Build Back Better Agenda would be financed in part by "making the tax code fairer and making the wealthiest and large corporations pay their fair share."

The advocacy organization Americans for Tax Fairness doesn't believe they're paying their fair share now —  and the problem has only been exacerbated by profit-taking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization calculates that the 708 billionaires in the United States saw their wealth increase by 62 percent since the disease began to spread, rising from $2.95 trillion on March 18, 2020, to $4.77 trillion on August 17. Among those hoovering up the most moolah was Amazon's Jeff Bezos, a rumored suitor to purchase the Denver Broncos, whose estimated worth on August 17 was $188 billion — an increase of around $113 billion over eighteen months ago. Today, his net worth is estimated to exceed $200 billion.

Colorado's ten billionaires haven't done quite as well as Bezos during the pandemic. In fact, three of them — railroad and entertainment tycoon Phil Anschutz (whose Denver Gazette just celebrated its first anniversary yesterday), cheese kingpin James Leprino and former Janus CEO Thomas Bailey — actually saw their net worth shrink a bit from March 2020 to last month.

Still, Frank Clemente, the executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, stresses that no one should be "shedding crocodile tears for billionaires." After all, his organization estimates that the Colorado group's net worth grew by 45 percent, or $14 billion, since mid-March 2020.

"This wealth is largely not being taxed," he points out. "You don't pay taxes on your wealth growth until you sell your assets. So if you're not cashing in your stock or selling your business, you're not paying any taxes on that."

Here's the Americans for Tax Fairness chart of Colorado billionaires, which uses data gathered by Forbes.
Figures for some billionaires, including Cargill MacMillan III and William MacMillan, weren't available, since their holdings are private. But it's clear that Charlie Ergen, the co-founder and chair of Dish Network, a service that saw a huge spike in viewership after the 2020 stay-at-home order was put in place, has piled up a load of cash during the pandemic. His net worth more than doubled, from around $5.4 billion in March 2020 to more than $12 billion in August 2021 — a 123 percent gain.

Ergen became Colorado's richest person in 2021, surpassing Anschutz, whose net worth declined by 7.5 percent over the same period — though he's still worth more than $10 billion.

The largest gain in net worth by percentage was enjoyed by Kenneth Tuchman, who founded TTEC, a global call-center outsourcing firm. His wealth grew by 170.3 percent, going from $1.3 billion to more than $3.5 billion. And Fort Collins-based Pat Stryker, whose riches can be traced to the medical equipment business, experienced a 66 percent wealth spike from March 2020, when she was worth about $2 billion, to August 2021, when she'd banked more than $3.3 billion.

Under the Build Back Better plan, "the domestic tax rate for corporations would go from 21 percent to 28 percent. It used to be 35 percent when Trump came into office, so Biden wants to put it halfway back, to 28 percent," Clemente notes.

The plan "doesn't do nearly enough, unfortunately," he adds. "It doesn't tax billionaires' wealth. It taxes their income from wealth. But it does raise some real revenue. It's a step in the right direction."

Right now, he continues, "there's something fundamentally wrong with our economic system if people are able to accumulate such huge increases in wealth and not even come close to paying their fair share of taxes on that. And one of the easiest ways to level the playing field to a certain extent is to tax these extraordinary wealth gains and use that money in much more productive ways that benefit society."

Instead of just rewarding billionaires, such as the ten in Colorado.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts