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United for a Fair Economy (UFE) invites everyone who supports fair taxes to join a petition to Congress to enact a robust estate tax.
The petition drive was launched on Tuesday as UFE’s Responsible Wealth project convened a group of well-known policy and political luminaries supporting a stronger estate tax and billionaires who believe that their estates should be taxed upon their deaths. The group includes George Soros, Abigail Disney, Robert Rubin, President Jimmy Carter and others.
Richard Rockefeller (one of the Rockefellers) spoke about how public investments funded by taxes will improve the quality of life for his heirs in a way that his own money alone cannot.
“If the world I leave behind is one of gated communities, growing inequality and misery among the have-nots, downward mobility for the middle class, a degraded environment and a rotting social and physical infrastructure — then [my children’s] inheritance will be a shabby one — no matter how much money they get.”
The bill approved by Senate Democrats over the summer to extend most, but not all, of the Bush income tax cuts did not address the Bush estate tax cuts, which also expire at the end of this year. This is apparently because Senate Democrats themselves could not agree on how robust the estate tax should be.
The Bush tax cuts included the gradual reduction and eventual repeal (in 2010) of the estate tax. The “compromise” that President Obama signed that extended the Bush income tax cuts through 2012 does not repeal the estate tax altogether, but does set it at very low levels. Republicans and some Democrats in Congress want to extend these current rules, which exempt $5 million of an estate’s value per person, meaning a married couple can leave at least $10 million behind without triggering any estate tax. The taxable part of an estate is then taxed at a rate of 35 percent.
President Obama and many Democrats want to bring back the estate tax rules that were in place, for one year, in 2009, which exempted $3.5 million of an estate’s value per person (meaning $7 million for a married couple) and taxed the taxable part of an estate at 45 percent.
Citizens for Tax Justice has pointed out that even President Obama’s proposal (to reinstate the 2009 estate tax rules) would only tax an absurdly small number of estates. A 2011 report from CTJ shows that just 0.3 percent of deaths in 2009 resulted in estate tax liability. (The report also has figures for each state.)
The UFE petition recognizes this and calls for an estate tax that is more robust than what President Obama proposes, one that exempts $2 million of an estate’s value per person. The taxable part of an estate would be taxed at progressive rates, starting at 45 percent.