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Sharing the Wealth: WA Congressman Tackles the Estate Tax

November 30, 2009

SEATTLE - They say you can't take it with you and, in December, Congress must decide how much estates should be taxed when someone dies. The federal estate tax expires at the end of this year.

It doesn't affect most people - only one in a hundred is wealthy enough for their estate to be taxed - but some of the super-rich are lobbying to eliminate it. Groups such as United for a Fair Economy (UFE) disagree; its Responsible Wealth Director, Mike Lapham, points out that the tax averages 17 percent of a multimillion dollar estate, and he believes paying it is the right thing to do.

"Keeping 83 cents on your dollar, being able to pass that on to the next generation or to charity, doesn't seem like a terribly bad deal. That, to me, is a fair amount to pay back to a society that, really, created the opportunity to build your wealth in the first place."

There are proposals to keep the estate tax, and others that would end it. Lapham says his group supports a plan introduced by Washington Congressman Jim McDermott (D-7th District.)

"We think the strongest one is Representative McDermott's bill, the Sensible Estate Tax Act, which says we should set the exemption at $2 million per individual or $4 million per couple and set the rate at 45 percent above that. That would bring in much more revenue than any of the other proposals."

Right now, a married couple can pass on $7 million to their heirs before paying any estate tax, which has been reduced several times in the past decade.

Opponents of the tax say it penalizes the families of successful people. But UFE's viewpoint is that reducing or eliminating the tax would ensure that the rich get richer, at a time when the government cannot afford to lose a source of income. The group's Web site is

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA