Inherited Fortunes Should Be Taxed

March 29, 2012

What if there was a way to bring in substantial new revenue to pay for vital public services? What if we could generate that revenue exclusively from those who can best afford it, the estates of millionaires and billionaires, and at the same time reduce economic inequality? We'd be crazy to not do it, right? Well, the good news is that a strong estate tax will do exactly that.

At a time when so many essential government programs are facing painful cuts or even elimination as a result of low federal revenues, restoring a strong estate tax can be a big step toward solving some of the problems facing our federal budget and addressing the growing epidemic of persistent economic inequality. There is a bill currently in congress, The Sensible Estate Tax Act (H.R. 3467), that would be an excellent estate tax reform.

The American's for a Fair Estate Tax (AFET) coalition, which is made up of more than seventy national and state groups including membership organizations, advocacy groups and labor unitions, just sent a letter urging congress to pass H.R. 3467 (PDF). Among the reasons AFET supports H.R. 3467:

  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that federal estate and gift taxes will generate $516 billion in revenue from 2013 through 2022, assuming that the 2010 estate and gift tax cut expires as scheduled at the end of 2012.
  • Other policy options would be fiscally irresponsible. CBO found that extending the estate tax reduction in effect for 2011 and 2012, which increased the estate tax exemption to $5 million per spouse and reduces the top estate tax rate to 35 percent, would cost $432 billion over the following decade.
  • Existing tax breaks would continue to protect small businesses and farms under either the pre-2001 rules or the Sensible Estate Tax Act. A CBO analysis (PDF) found that only 0.3 percent of taxable estates were either family held-business estates or estates of farmers and lacked sufficient liquid assets (like cash, stocks, and bonds) to pay the estate tax. That’s why opponents of the estate tax have not been able to find a single farm that had to be sold to pay the tax.

The Sensible Estate Tax Act would also make important reforms that reunify the gift and estate tax exclusions; make permanent the portability of the exemption for spouses; restore the state credit to provide critical revenue for states without increasing taxes; close loopholes in the asset valuation and minority discount rules; among a number of other reforms.

It's a great bill. Unfortunately, every Republican tax proposal includes eliminating the estate tax, and President Obama supports extending the estate tax at its lowest level from the Bush tax cuts. Neither of these options is nearly good enough. That's why AFET is pressuring congress and building support for the Sensible Estate Tax Act.

For more on AFET's support of H.R. 3467, read our press release.

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