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A trillion good reasons to keep the estate tax
by Mike Lapham
08 Apr 2006
My grandparents and great-grandparents paid the estate tax when they passed
along the family business. Some decade soon, my own parents will.
With hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars to gain, I should
be cheering for the proposal coming before the Senate in May to do away with
the estate tax, which applies only to multimillion dollar inheritances.
Instead, I¹m organizing wealthy members of Responsible Wealth to oppose
repeal of the estate tax. As multi-millionaires, we have benefited
handsomely from all that our country provides: public education, roads,
clean water, legal protection, research funding and public safety, just for
One Responsible Wealth member, Martin Rothenberg, grew up using the public
library, went to school on the GI Bill, received a government fellowship,
and built a $30 million software company using publicly-funded research and
publicly-educated employees. ³I hope the taxes on my estate will help fund
the kind of programs that benefited me and others from humble backgrounds,²
Given the choice to be taxed or not, we all tend to choose not. That¹s just
human nature. But we have to look at the wider implications of what we ask
our elected officials to do for us.
In 2001, when Congress voted to phase out and repeal the estate tax, the
federal treasury was expecting a $5 trillion surplus. Times have changed,
however. Now there¹s over $8 trillion in federal debt.
There are a trillion good reasons to retain the estate tax in the years to
come. Permanently abolishing the estate tax would cost almost $1 trillion in
the first ten years.
I believe our country has higher priorities for $1 trillion than giving
families like mine a huge tax break.
Besides our existing $8 trillion debt, consider some of the additional
expenditures coming down the pike.
The Iraq War will continue to be costly in both human lives and money. Nobel
Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his coauthor Linda Bilmes
estimate a total budgetary cost of between $750 billion and $1.27 trillion.
In late 2003, Congress passed an expansion of the Medicare prescription drug
benefit. The Center for Medicare and Medical Services projects a ten-year
cost of $797 billion.
Congressional leaders have pledged to abolish the Alternative Minimum Tax
(AMT) for individuals, especially as an estimated 30 million taxpayers will
pay the AMT by 2010. Eliminating the AMT will reduce federal revenues by
$611 to $790 billion over ten years.
The Republican leadership in Congress would like to extend the tax cuts they
passed in 2001 and 2003. The cost of this extension would be $1 trillion in
lost revenue over ten years.
Estate tax repeal, combined with these other expenditures, would balloon our
national debt in the coming decade. With lighter and lighter taxation of
wealthy asset-owners like my family each year, more tax dollars would come
out of the pockets of working Americans. In this context, considering estate
tax repeal is fiscally and morally irresponsible.
A new poll shows that most Americans agree. Voters chose keeping the estate
tax as one of the two best ways to reduce the budget deficit. Almost
three-quarters support reforming the tax or leaving it intact rather than
In a society where the economic rules are strongly tilted in favor of the
haves at the expense of the have-nots, where tax laws give generous
loopholes to the wealthiest among us, the occasion of passing on wealth to
the next generation is an appropriate time to tax our accumulated fortunes.
Most of the appreciated value of these assets has never been taxed.
The choice is whether to remove a tax on estates of more than $3.5 million,
affecting only the 6,000 wealthiest individuals who die each year.
Responsible Wealth members believe that a fair tax system, fiscal
responsibility, and priorities like healthcare and education are better
choices than lining the pockets of our progeny.
I could be sitting back hoping my parents¹ estate won¹t be subject to the
estate tax. Instead, I¹m hoping the majority of U.S. Senators understand
what many of them don¹t: that we in the richest one percent can and should
pay this very fair tax, as an appropriate way for us to give back and create
opportunities for others.
Mike Lapham (mlapham (at) responsiblewealth.org) is Director of the Responsible
Wealth project of United for a Fair Economy.
Communications Director, United for a Fair Economy
(617) 423-2148 x113
29 Winter Street
Boston, MA 02108
United for a Fair Economy is an independent national organization
that raises awareness of the damaging consequences of concentrated
wealth and power.
This work is in the public domain