by Max Brantley
Floyd Norris' column in NY Times today is available to subscribers only, unfortunately. But it summarizes as well as anything I've seen the facts that put the lie to Blanche Lincoln's alibi that her advocacy for the estate tax repeal is about helping the little guy.
Most recent data available, for 2004 indicates:
A very few, very rich estates pay most of the estate tax burden. It is a very progressive tax, in other words. Poor people don't pay. Middle-class people don't pay. Only wealthy people pay.
Double taxation? Nah. About two-thirds of the assets of the biggest estates ($20 million or more) were in real estate and stock -- appreciated capital assets, in other words, and thus not previously taxed, as wages are.
Confiscatory rates? Not really, after deductions for spouses and charity.
In 2004, only 736 tax returns were filed for estates worth $20 million or more. Only 520 of them owed estate taxes, but these 520 paid a quarter of all estate taxes for the year, about $5.6 billion. The top marginal rate is 55 percent, sure, but the average tax for this group was only 19 percent.
A bill Blanche Lincoln supported last week would have cut the tax rate on those 520 richest estates by a third, a nifty savings of $1.8 billion. A huge chunk of it would be a gift to people like Walton children who toiled not for their riches but inherited appreciated stock granted essentially free to their parents.