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A View from the Top: Gates Sr. Sounds Off about Estate Tax


Friday, December 18, 2009   

SEATTLE, Wash. - A vote in the U.S. Senate to close the one-year gap in the estate tax is now unlikely, which means the tax will be suspended in 2010 for one year. The super-rich have weighed in on both sides of the issue - and so have charitable foundations that stand to lose billions as estate tax plans change. Even some of the richest people in America say they don't mind the idea of paying an estate tax on a portion of their wealth when they die. But those views went unheeded in Congress this week. Now, the tax will expire on January 1.

A familiar name here in Washington, Bill Gates, Sr., says the estate tax is only fair. He believes the "richest of the rich" are in that position because they have benefitted from living in the U.S., where taxpayers fund more than $90 billion a year worth of research and technology.

"Clearly, the largest and most generous venture capitalist in the universe is Uncle Sam. And it's clear that the folks who have become wealthy because of significant social investments did not do it alone."

Ending the estate tax is also expected to cost charities more than $20 billion a year, according to Catholic Charities USA, because funding charitable foundations has always been part of a tax planning strategy for the wealthy, which now won't be necessary if there is no estate tax. Critics of the estate tax argue it hurts family-owned corporations and farms, and prompts family businesses to sell out to larger companies when their owners die.

John Bogle is the founder of The Vanguard Group and one of the "richest of the rich" who is in favor of the estate tax, for next year and beyond. The way tax law works, he says, most of his wealth has not yet been taxed, and won't be until his death. He also says he resents the fact that a few rich families are fighting the tax.

"For us to think, who owe these taxes, that we don't want to pay our fair share of the cost of running this nation, when our young citizens are dying in wars out there trying to protect Democracy, seems to me quite outrageous."

Research from the group United for a Fair Economy claims 18 families have spent millions of dollars in a coordinated campaign to eliminate the tax, and they've succeeded in winning five tax cuts since 2001.

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