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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wealthy Should Pay Their Fair Share - by Joan Claybrook and Dave Eiffert

As the Senate considers repealing the federal estate tax, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray face an onslaught of attack ads about an issue that's critical to our economic health but has been twisted and warped like few others. Their choice will be to continue to stand with most Washingtonians on values and priorities or to fall prey to the spin and deception coming out of D.C.
 
Lobbyists, unregulated conservative groups and The Seattle Times publisher hope to sway our senators with an expensive fear-mongering campaign telling voters that the estate tax will affect almost all of them. They will tell the public about hard-working families having to sell their parents' farms or small businesses being wiped out in order to pay estate tax bills, arguments seen in the "Vultures" TV ad that has been playing around the state.
 
Those emotion-laden anecdotes would be more persuasive if they were true. In reality, only the wealthiest one-fourth of 1 percent of all people who die in the United States in 2006 will pay any estate taxes. That leaves the other 99.7 percent of the public free to pass on 100 percent of their assets untaxed.
 
And the American Farm Bureau, a member of the anti-estate tax coalition, has been unable to cite a single instance where a family was forced to sell its farm because of estate tax liability. The same goes for small businesses, which have rarely faced taxation as the exemption rate on the tax has been increased.
 
If you have not heard those statistics before, it is no accident. A recent report published by Public Citizen and United for a Fair Economy shows how a handful of superwealthy families quietly have helped finance and coordinate a massive campaign to fool the American public and repeal the estate tax. Those 18 families, worth a total of $185.5 billion, have worked mostly in the shadows but they have names you've heard before: Walton, Gallo, Mars and, closer to home, Nordstrom and Frank Blethen (publisher of The Seattle Times). Collectively, those families stand to save a total of more than $70 billion if the estate tax is repealed.
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