ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight wrote this column appearing October 15, 2010 on The Washington Times website and in the print edition on October 18, 2010.
As election day approaches and many incumbents contemplate the death of their political careers, it’s a good time to remind them of their unfinished work in fending off a massive tax increase, and in particular, the death tax. In fact, they should be hounded about this at every campaign stop.
The death tax was reduced to zero in 2010, but will lurch from its grave on Jan. 1, 2011 and haunt small businesses worth $1 million or more. The 55 percent rate, if not repealed, will destroy many family-owned enterprises.
While tax-hungry liberals lick their chops at this Soviet-style confiscatory scheme, ordinary Americans should ask politicians why they want to hobble the only sure job-creating sector in a time of nearly 10 percent unemployment. Actually, it’s worse. When you add the people who gave up looking and those working only part time, we’re talking 17 percent.
But even that could balloon if this ghastly grave-robbing is not stopped. It’s not as if Congress doesn’t know what it’s doing. The evidence has been there for years, as companies have folded, been sold off or broken up by the death tax.
In Sheffield, Iowa, Sukup Manufacturing Company employs nearly half the workers of the 1,000-resident town. Eugene Sukup, who started the farm equipment company, is 81, and has health problems. The death tax hangs over his family and town like the Grim Reaper’s giant scythe, and he’s trying to put a blade cover on it.
Mr. Sukup was featured recently on Cross-Examine, a new television program from Coral Ridge Ministries. Show host Del Tackett explained the two socialist notions that drive the death tax: “The state can pretty much take whatever it wants as long as it’s somebody else’s,” and “the rich are the bad guys–that somehow if they have it, it’s because they’ve taken from us.”
Sukup Manufacturing donates 10 percent of its taxable income back to the community through its own foundation. Three years ago, on Nov. 14, 2007, Mr. Sukup and several other small businessmen told the Senate Finance Committee that the death tax could destroy their companies and devastate their communities: “I built this company, my sons helped me build it and my grandchildren want to carry it on,” Mr. Sukup testified. “Isn’t that the kind of entrepreneurship that our government should encourage?”
In How the Death Tax Kills Small Businesses, Communities–and Civil Society, a Heritage Foundation paper, Dr. Pat Fagan writes that the tax kills more than entrepreneurial dreams:
So high is the death tax that a large portion of heirs to small companies cannot afford to pay it after the business founder dies, and see themselves forced to sell to giant corporations–which have no personal ties to the communities of their new acquisitions, and thus no incentive to commit to local institutions. What does the death tax kill? The best of American life and civil society itself.”
Liberals love this tax because it’s part of their life support system. When the American dream fails, more people depend on government and liberal politicians who deliver more welfare. And liberals know how to take care of their own. Before adjourning to campaign, Congress enacted a $193,400 “death benefit” for the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s family. As Lawrence Hunter of the Alliance for Retirement Prosperity put it, “I would applaud a charitable act from our elitists in the Senate, but not one senator took a thin dime out of his/her pocket. They took it out of ours!”
Meanwhile, the death tax monster is careering toward the rest of us. Here’s another example of its destructive power presented to the Finance Committee:
When the Bearden, Arkansas-based Anthony Timberlands logging company began a century ago, Arkansas had nearly 20 other community-based lumber companies, but all except Anthony were done in by the death tax. Company president John Ed Anthony said his firm is now in peril:
As with most other timber companies, Anthony Timberlands does not have large cash reserves or other liquid assets. We call that being ‘land poor.’ Although we have weathered the storm of paying huge death taxes with the passing of my father in 1961 at a young age and my grandfather in 1981 at age 97, when I die, or in anticipation of my death, … it will be impossible to pay the death tax yet again and have the company survive. No entity of consequence can survive when 50 percent of its assets are confiscated.
As Pat Fagan observes, absentee ownership can be fatal to communities: “The lumber industry, of course, has little interest in building baseball fields or giving away scholarships or selling lots for homes. The Anthony family has a personal interest in doing those things, because they nurture and preserve the community where their family has had roots for generations.”
Inheritances are a fine thing, as we’re told in Proverbs 13: “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.”
One would think Al Gore’s green tree-hugging lobby, to whose drumbeat many liberals march, would oppose the death tax if only out of concern for Mother Earth. Hancock Lumber President Kevin Hancock told the senators that the death tax will cripple his Casco-Maine-based company when his mother dies and that the death tax “has been a leading cause of green-space and forest loss in Maine, as multiple private forests have been sold in order to pay the death tax.”
Well, you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet or a socialist revolution.
A chilling scene in the 1965 Oscar-winning film Dr. Zhivago is when the young doctor returns to find his Moscow family home occupied by squatters after the Soviet Revolution. He’s met by a humorless man and woman wearing red stars who inform him that “the people” now own his home.
It’s not hard to imagine certain congressional leaders in those roles.