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 believe 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, but we’ve done very little to prevent the next pandemic,” 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.

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 ideally fund an institute to detect and prevent new disease outbreaks, 25 percent would pay for safety upgrades at schools, and 25 percent 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.”

Critics argue that Californians are already overtaxed. And the public health initiative likely won’t be the only proposal on the November ballot that would increase taxes on high-income earners.

“Why are we even talking about raising taxes when we have a nearly $50 billion state budget surplus,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “This is exactly why we’re seeing significant flight out of California and why wealthier individuals like Elon Musk are leaving for states like Texas and Florida.”

As coronavirus cases have declined statewide and nationally, the economy has emerged as a major priority among Californians.

According to a March survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 35 percent of state residents said recent price increases had “caused serious financial hardship.” And many expressed concern over rising housing costs and homelessness. At the same time, nearly 80 percent of Californians were optimistic that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic was “behind us,” the poll found.

Campaign organizers and supporters say the investments would make California more attractive to businesses and prospective residents.

“California will be a global leader in this new area of technology and will serve as a model for the nation and the world while creating thousands of new, well-paid jobs, generating millions of dollars in new tax revenues, and drawing talent and private investment into the state,” the initiative language states.

If the initiative passes, the California Institute for Pandemic Prevention would distribute public health grants to researchers, institutions, and scientists studying ways to reduce the transmission of dangerous pathogens.

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