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Note to Readers: Over the coming weeks, ITEP will highlight tax policy proposals that are gaining momentum in states across the country. This week, we’re taking a closer look at proposals which would reduce or eliminate state inheritance and estate taxes. If you haven’t already, be sure to read our inaugural article in the series on proposals in some states to roll back or eliminate income taxes, which are the uniquely progressive feature of our tax system.
Whether state or federal, inheritance and estate taxes play an important role in limiting concentrated wealth in America. Warren Buffett views the estate tax as key to preserving our meritocracy, and the great Justice Louis Brandeis famously warned that we could have concentrated wealth or we could have democracy, but not both. While the federal estate tax is often the source of passionate debate, these taxes are particularly important at the state level because they help offset some of the stark regressivity built into most state tax systems. Unfortunately, lawmakers in some states have bought into the bogus claims of the American Family Business Institute (a.k.a. nodeathtax.org), Arthur Laffer, and others in the anti-tax, anti-government movement that repealing estate and inheritance taxes will usher in an economic boom.
Nebraska – Governor Dave Heineman has proposed repealing Nebraska’s inheritance tax entirely, determined, it seems, to pile on to the tax cuts already enacted earlier in his term. (Inheritance taxes are very similar to estate taxes, except that inheritance taxes are technically paid by the heir to the estate, rather than by the estate itself.) Unfortunately, in addition to worsening the unfairness of the state’s tax system, the Governor’s proposal would also kick struggling localities while they’re down, since revenue from Nebraska’s inheritance tax flows to county governments.
Indiana – Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley recently made the same proposal as Nebraska’s governor: outright repeal of the inheritance tax. Kenley has floated the idea of using sales taxes on online shopping to pay for the repeal, but while Internet sales taxes are good policy on their own, this change would amount to an extremely regressive tax swap overall. Indiana’s inheritance tax is already limited, however, and exempts spouses of the deceased entirely, as well as the first $100,000 given to each child, stepchild, grandchild, parent, or grandparent.
Tennessee – Governor Bill Haslam’s inheritance tax proposal may be less radical than those receiving attention in Nebraska and Indiana, but not by much. Rather than repealing the tax entirely, Haslam would like to increase the state’s already generous $1 million exemption to a whopping $5 million. It’s surprising, to say the least, that one of Haslam’s top tax policy priorities should be slashing taxes for lucky heirs inheriting over $1 million.
North Carolina – Efforts to gut the estate tax in North Carolina haven’t gained backers as visible as those in Nebraska, Indiana, and Tennessee. But there are rumblings that repeal could be on the agenda of some legislators, as evidenced by the vehemently anti-estate tax testimony that a joint House-Senate committee heard from the American Family Business Institute this month.