Death to taxes

March 27, 2001 11:00 pm

The war in Washington, D.C., over President George W. Bushs tax plan isnt class warfare.

Its more like Armistice Day.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, Americans support the presidents tax plan, but recognize that it wont mean much to them or their families and will mainly benefit the rich.

Observers say a new political day has dawned when average Americans worry about being fair to the rich, reads a briefing on repeal of the estate tax from the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The repeal has broad support amongst Americans of modest means, the center reports, even though the estate tax applied to only 2.1 percent of the 2.3 million Americans who died in 1997.

That is the misleading nature of the name death tax.

Ben Franklin was right: Nothing certains but death and taxes. But the death tax is not certain.

There is a $650,000 exemption for estates under $10 million, which are taxed at a progressive rate of 18 to 55 percent.

There is no exemption for estates over $21 million, which are taxed at the maximum 55 percent. In between, estates can claim the exemption but are subject to the maximum rate plus a 5 percent surcharge.

To most of us, that would be a happy predicament to put our children in.

And the super rich must admit that dying today is cheaper than in 1970, when the tax rate maxed out at 70 percent.

But even the $650,000 exemption isnt safeguard enough for the working class.

Who would argue that farmers and ranchers arent amongst the hardest working people in America?

The value of their land factors into their estate. With low commodity prices and narrow profit margins, no family farm can hope to survive estate taxes without ample legal maneuvering before the death of the property owner.

The same goes for family newspapers another business with an incredibly narrow profit margin which often must sell out to larger conglomerates to pay the taxes due on the value of their presses, land, vehicles and other assets.

That is why it is easy to understand the egalitarian streak that seems sure to spell the demise of the death tax.

George Soros or Bill Gates who oppose the repeal would benefit most dollar wise.

But in terms of maintaining their lifeblood the family business repealing the death tax will give the entrepreneurs of America some hope of leaving the store or the farm to the kids.

In Northeast Oregon, where the majority of the businesses employ fewer than 10 people, the repeal would help continue the viability of our retail and cottage industries.

What the repeal will look like is still taking shape.

The House plan phases the tax out over a decade. The Senate is looking at an immediate repeal coupled with punitive increases in capital gains tax for heirs who choose to liquidate their inheritance.

The difference, however, isnt class warfare.

Its an effort to hammer out the best deal for the most people.