‘Unfair tax must be repealed’

Idahoans were on the hook for more than $26 million in estate taxes for 2013, according to U.S. Internal Revenue Service statistics. This is an average $1.6 million in federal tax liability for the Idaho families who had to meet this burden while enduring the loss of a loved one. High federal taxes should not prevent a family farmer, rancher or other business owner from passing the business they built on to their children. This unfair tax must be permanently repealed.

That is why I am again backing legislation authored by Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) that would fully repeal the federal estate tax, also known as the “death tax.” This measure is similar to legislation I have supported in previous years. 

The estate tax may be the most unfair tax on the books. Set at 40 percent, the death tax is a hefty double tax on income already taxed when originally earned. The penalty is especially burdensome in areas where agricultural land values have soared, making it difficult for families to meet the high tax burden to pass farms and ranches on to the next generation of producers. Additionally, families often have to go through costly, time-consuming estate planning to meet this burden while facing the passing of a loved one.

This onerous paperwork is necessary because the death tax is one of the most confusing and frequently-changing provisions. Prior to 2001, the death tax was set at a 55 percent maximum rate, with a $1 million exemption. Under the bipartisan tax relief enacted in 2001, the tax was phased down and the exemption was phased up. And, in 2010, Americans were offered a short-term reprieve from the federal estate tax when it went to zero for the year before legislation was enacted setting it at 35 percent through 2012, with a $5 million exemption. Then, in 2012, the rules were changed once again with enactment of legislation setting a 40 percent rate and $5.25 million exemption. 

Inexcusably, in the years that have passed while the death tax rate has fluctuated, Congress and President Obama have failed to enact the comprehensive tax reform needed to eliminate this unfair tax, lower tax rates for all Americans and broaden the base to decrease the complexity of the current tax code and help put our nation on better economic footing. A full and permanent repeal of this punitive tax would be a step in the right direction as I continue to work to simplify the tax code and increase competitiveness. At a time when lawmakers should be focused on economic growth and job creation, repealing the death tax makes sense on the path to simplifying our overly-burdensome tax code.

Mike Crapo (R) is an Idaho State senator

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