Nothing in life is certain, they say, except death and taxes. Conservatives haven’t found a way to exempt rich people from death yet, but they’re doing their damnedest to make sure they never have to pay taxes.One of the right-wingers’ favorite targets in this crusade is the estate tax, or “death tax,” as they like to call it. Here in Oregon the current campaign to eliminate the state estate tax is being led by professional ballot initiative promoter Kevin Mannix and his trusty lieutenant, Koch Brothers protégée Tim Knopp, who also is the Republican nominee for the state Senate district including Bend.
Mannix, Knopp and their minions are circulating petitions to get an initiative to kill the estate tax on the ballot. As of last week they had collected about 75,000 signatures, according to Mannix; they need to get about 12,000 more by July 6.
The lies being peddled about the Oregon estate tax are the same ones we’ve been hearing for decades: The “death tax” is unfair because “the money has already been taxed.” People are forced to sell the family farm to pay the tax. The tax discourages people from investing in Oregon. It encourages them to retire to other states.
Let’s take them one at a time.
First, the label “death tax” is silly. Nobody has to pay a tax to die in Oregon. The tax is taken out of the estate.
Second, the money has not “already been taxed.” For the heirs who receive it, it’s new money; they’ve never paid any taxes on it. Saying that somebody who inherits $10 million from Uncle Elwood shouldn’t pay tax on it is as absurd as claiming that somebody who wins $10 million at the blackjack tables shouldn’t pay tax on it because the casino did.
Third, the Oregon estate tax is levied only on estates over $1 million. And for “natural resource properties” such as farms or timber land the threshold is $7.5 million. Critics of Oregon’s “death tax” can’t point to a single verifiable case of a family farm being lost because of it.
Finally, there’s also no credible evidence that the estate tax is driving people or businesses out of the state. In a typical year, 32,000 people die in Oregon and only 732 of them leave estates that owe any tax. The rate at the bottom is only 10%, rising to 16% at the top – hardly a confiscatory level.
Bottom line: The crusade against the estate tax isn’t about fairness or justice or helping the state’s economy – it’s about a small number of rich people trying to avoid taxes. Tax Fairness Oregon argues that the $100 million the tax generates each year could pay for one week of school for all the children in the state, and that Oregonians should care more about that than about shielding 732 families from a tax they can well afford to pay.
We agree. So we’re giving Tim Knopp and the other estate tax repealers THE BOOT, and we urge you to do likewise if somebody approaches you with a petition.