Taxing Cadavers Is Gross Public Policy

By James L. Martin

January 29, 2001

Originally published in The Washington Times

Accelerating the R.I.P. date for the death tax would be the most beneficial boost I know of to a slowing economy and to the lives of countless mom and pop businesses and farmers all across America.

Moving up the date from the 10-year phase out to a retroactive date of January 1, 2001, achieves true repeal and avoids the pitfalls faced by Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore’s car tax repeal. (Gilmore’s wildly popular car tax repeal carried him to a smashing victory in 1997.) However, it left a lot of distraught taxpayers when they learned the tax is to be phased out over a number of years instead of immediate repeal.

The 10-year phase-out for death tax means it will face similar problems as the car tax each time there is an economic downturn. And speaking on behalf of senior citizens, some 33,000 in Texas and a like number in Florida, many have called or written to the 60 Plus Association that they can’t wait 10 years.

It’s also beneficial to recall that the confiscatory 55% death tax was to ‘phase down’ to 50% while Reagan was in the White House. Reagan’s been out of the White House now for over a dozen years and the 55% rate still prevails. So much for a phase out philosophy.

To the canard that death tax repeal is a tax cut for the rich, I say it’s time to dismount from that dead horse. No longer does this class warfare resonate, especially in light of every poll showing staggering support for repeal, upwards of 80%, albeit they’re clearly not affected.

In the 60 Plus Association’s continuing educational campaign to show the ludicrousness of the ‘death’ tax, we have for years used the rallying cry that ‘Dying Should Not be a Taxable Event.’ Now we have a new slogan: ‘Taxing Cadavers is Gross Public Policy.’

President George W. Bush made abolishment of the death tax a major campaign issue. While the bill that passed Congress last year, and vetoed by President Clinton, called for rate reduction over 10 years we believe the time is now right to bring immediate repeal up for a vote.

In a city where con-jobs are a daily occurrence, one of the biggest con-jobs of all is the one former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore foisted on the public that the death tax is a ‘windfall for the wealthy’.

Both know full well that the truly rich don’t pay this tax. Instead they spend inordinate amounts of money to set up trusts and foundations to avoid it. Bill Gates, Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey have the liquid capital to do this while mom and pop operations and farmers such as my friend Chester Thigpen, the 88-year-old grandson of slaves, the Mississippi tree farmer, don’t have two nickels of liquid assets to rub together.

As for the argument that less than 2% are affected by the tax, the 60 Plus Association counters with a poll that shows nearly 80% of the American public, across political lines and philosophies, favors abolishing the tax, citing the unfairness of a tax that is clearly a levy on assets that have already been taxed at least once.

While we’ve named it the Death Tax, Grim-Reaper’s Tax, Grave Robber’s Tax, Cruelest Tax, Exit Tax, Departure Tax and Success Tax, it could just as accurately be called a Voluntary Tax since only a few use the loopholes that are available to avoid it through trusts and foundations.

This tax is actually a revenue loser instead of a revenue raiser in that the 1% of federal tax receipts collected annually are wasted on collection and compliance, while economic studies show that those monies left in the economy would boost job creation thus providing more tax revenues for the Treasury.

Law professor Edward McCaffrey of the University of Southern California, an ‘unrequited liberal’, says that there’s now ample economic evidence that the tax is actually a hindrance to job expansion and serious thought should be given to immediate repeal. The conservative 60 Plus Association agrees with the liberal law professor.

The death tax, enacted three times before in the nation’s history to finance defense efforts, and always repealed shortly thereafter, has been on the books for over 84 years.

Immediate repeal is what the public wants. Let’s remove Uncle Sam, not even a blood relative, from first in line of claimants for a loved one’s earthly possessions.

Let’s kill the death tax, kill it dead, black flag dead, by repealing it a fourth and final time by allowing this onerous tax to R.I.P. in the year 2001.

— Jim Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association