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First, there is no ‘death tax’

idaho RANDY

One place to start in the discussion of a Seattle Times editorial about a particular tax is to point out that it doesn’t exist.

That is to say, the “death tax” – of which there isn’t one, at any event. What the paper was referring to, in an August 14 editorial, was the estate tax (which it correctly referred to in other locations). The trigger for the editorial was a story, run a few days earlier, about the last family farm located in Issaquah, and how it is being liquidated for sale to become (apparently) a subdivision.

“Twelve acres of open space farmed by a single family since 1883 will soon become a subdivision,” the paper said. “The McBride case ought to show us conventional thinking is wrong — the death tax really isn’t a whack on the wealthy.”

A pile of comments on the editorial argued that it was at best misleading. The comprehensive came comes from the blogger David Goldstein, who ran off a string of facts that effectively wiped out the editorial’s reasoning.

He pointed out that “Working family farms are entirely exempt from the Washington’s estate tax, while 99.4% of family farms pay no federal estate tax at all; the number of family farms liquidated to pay the federal estate tax is estimated near zero.” The estate at Issaquah is too small to qualify for estate taxation (the federal estate tax kicks in at $5.25 million, and the property was sold for $4.5 million), and its owner hasn’t even died yet. And, noted, Washington state’s estate tax law, which the paper described as “especially punitive,” actually “exempts the value of working farms entirely. All of it.”

The McBride family did, however, say taxes were an important reason they sold. But according to the Issaquah Press, the taxes that were becoming hard to bear were not estate but rather property taxes.
Goldstein: “So lacking an actual example of a family farm or small business being liquidated to pay off the estate tax, the Seattle Times had to cook one up.”

There hasn’t been a substantive response yet from the Times. Or even a bit of embarrassment over using the misleading “death tax” terminology. If we see one, we’ll include it in this space.

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One Comment

  1. Kevin Kevin August 25, 2014

    I’m all for taking reporters to task for misrepresenting the facts, in this case, suggesting that the death tax is what caused the family to sell the McBride family farm. It apparently did no such thing.

    However, I’m not impressed with the argument that there is no such thing as a death tax. It is pretty obvious that the term “death tax” is simply a colloquial term for either estate taxes, inheritance taxes, or both. These taxes levy your estate upon your death (before inheritances get passed out, in the case of the estate tax) and sometimes a second time as it’s getting passed out to your heirs (in the case of the inheritance tax).

    To suggest there is no “death tax” is just quibbling with words.

    On the other hand, this article seems to sympathize with the supporters of the “death tax” and thus the right of the government to claim a large portion of a dead person’s estate. I would like to ask on what basis should the government, morally, at least, have such a right?

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