Cooperman on tax policy: Progressives are out of touch with reality

Self-made billionaire has pledged to donate majority of his fortune — but he still is championing for fair tax code

Leon and Toby Cooperman. (RWJBH)

Leon Cooperman has pledged to give away the majority of his more than $2 billion of wealth — something he proved again Thursday with a $100 million gift to Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

And Cooperman said he’s more than willing to pay taxes, even more than others — something he said he recently proved when he sent in his estimated taxes at a rate of 35%.

But, he’s having none of the talk about people in New Jersey having to pay a little more to get more — and the wealthy not paying their “fair share.”

Cooperman said he fears the country is headed down in wrong direction.

“I think that these progressives are on the wrong track,” he said. “The trouble with the progressives is they’re out of touch with reality. Bernie Sanders wants 90% of what you make. Elizabeth Warren wants 70% plus a wealth tax.

“They say, ‘Tax the rich.’ The rich already are taxed.”

How much is Cooperman willing to pay? Half, he said.

“I’ve said repeatedly, I’m willing to work for the government six months of the year, work for myself six months a year,” he said. “The proposed tax rate in New York and probably New Jersey is about 61%.”

Cooperman is a self-made billionaire. The first in his family to go to college, he started his first job at Goldman Sachs with no money in the bank and a 6-month-old baby at home.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be born in America, in a capitalistic system,” he said. “I got what I got through a combination of hard work, lots of luck and good intuition. I live the American dream.”

Cooperman said he can’t understand why people such as him are being vilified.

“I just sent in my estimated taxes for the quarter, my marginal tax rate is about 35% — and I have no complaint about it,” he said. “I’ll pay my taxes, but I think this attacking the wealthy is making a big mistake.

“How do you get wealthy in America? You get wealthy by producing a product or service that somebody wants. Is the world worse off or better off because of Bill Gates, Bernie Marcus, Ken Langone, Jeff Bezos and people like that? The world’s much better off for people like that. And we should stop criticizing them, just tax them fairly.”

Of course, that’s the question. To use a popular phrase, Coopeman said he wants to know what his “fair share” actually is. He said he’s gone straight to the top and not gotten an answer.

“I say to (Gov.) Phil Murphy, who talks about the wealthy paying their fair share, ‘What the hell does that mean?’” he said.

Cooperman said he’s asked Warren Buffett, too — after Buffett publicly said the wealthy should pay more.

“I said to Warren, ‘What do you have in mind?’ He said, ‘If you make a million dollars a year, it’s a 35% tax rate. If you make over $5 million, it’s 40%.’

“We’re well past that if you live in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut or California. We’ve got to get our spending under control.”

And, if we have to, tone down the rhetoric.

Cooperman said all this talk about the 1% is harmful. And anti-capitalistic.

“I wrote a letter to (President Barack Obama) seven or eight years ago, criticizing him, saying, ‘You’re telling the 99% that they’ve been screwed by the 1%, rather than telling the 99% with hard work and a lot of luck, they can become part of the 1%,’” he said. “That’s what made America great. People didn’t envy rich people, they wanted to become rich.

“The system is being turned upside down, and it’s very unfortunate.”