The Baton Rouge morning line; how the Waltons get richer through estate tax loopholes | Arkansas Blog

The Baton Rouge morning line; how the Waltons get richer through estate tax loopholes


  • THE KINGFISH: In Baton Rouge.
As Lindsey mentioned I'm on the road, currently in muggy Baton Rouge, where a morning stroll took me past Huey Long and his monunent (the state Capitol). I had cracklins and boudin balls at a Cajun convenience store just shy of the Atchafalaya, saw the cane fields nearing harvest, cruised by Tiger Stadium, ate some good fried shrimp at Parrains and otherwise have gotten back in touch with my lost youth.

I'm staying in a Hilton that once was the Heidelberg Hotel, something of an un-airconditioned flophouse when I stayed in it in 1968 during a high school trip to Louisiana's Youth and Government program. Ran for governor. Got beat by the New Orleans machine candidate. (That's my story and I"m sticking to it) In a state that was then as wonderfully interconnected as Arkansas, he happened to be the son of a former high school sweetheart of my father.

But back to business. Not much this morning, but there's this:

* HOW THE RICH (WALTONS) GET RICHER: A report from Bloomberg details how the Walton family has protected its billions from the tax man and other erosion.

America's richest family, worth more than $100 billion, has exploited a variety of legal loopholes to avoid the estate tax, according to court records and Internal Revenue Service filings obtained through public-records requests. The Waltons' example highlights how billionaires deftly bypass a tax intended to make sure that the nation's wealthiest contribute their share to government rather than perpetuate dynastic wealth, a notion of fairness voiced by supporters of the estate tax like Warren Buffett and William Gates Sr.

...Alice Walton's mother and brother poured more than $9 billion into trusts since 2003 that fund charitable projects like Crystal Bridges and are also designed to protect gifts to heirs from taxation. Another Walton pioneered a tax-avoidance maneuver that is now widely used by U.S. billionaires.
"I hate to say it, but the very rich pay very little in gift and estate tax," said Jerome Hesch, a lawyer at Berger Singerman LLP in Miami who reviewed some of the Walton family's trust filings for Bloomberg. "At the Waltons' numbers, the savings are unbelievable."

...losing just two estate tax loopholes — ones that the Waltons appear to have used — would raise more than $2 billion annually over the next decade, according to Treasury Department estimates. That doesn't count taxes lost to the type of charitable trusts the Waltons used to fund projects like the museum; the department hasn't estimated that cost.

Sadly, the PR machine for the wealthy has convinced many Americans that there is a "death tax," thus the rush to "avoid probate" (an unrelated issue, for one thing) by people without, as my father's used to say, a "pot to pee in."

A tiny percentage of people must pay an estate tax each year, probably now in the dozens in Arkansas with a couple estate tax exemption of more than $10 million in free and clear assets. And there is NO estate tax assessed in Arkansas. It once was a modest percentage of the tax assessed at the federal level. Now it's nothing. And, in the case of the Waltons, it's a missed opportunity to tax billions that the heirs received at almost no cost. Forget about the notion that they had paid taxes already on the appreciated stock that constitutes the majority of their fortune.

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