News & Politics

Coalition of Billionaires and Super-Rich Tell Obama: Make Us Pay More So the Poor Aren't Hurt

A group of prominent and wealthy Americans is calling for a rise in the estate tax.

Forces on the right continue to refuse to agree to paying higher taxes as the January 1 deadline approaches, with automatic spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to go into effect. But other wealthy Americans are getting on the right side of things, and are calling for a raise in how much taxes they pay.

Specifically, this group of wealthy Americans are calling for a rise in the estate tax, which is a tax on the transfer of taxable property to someone else after a person dies.

The groupUnited for a Fair Economy organized a project called Responsible Wealth, which includes prominent Americans such as Warren Buffett, George Soros, Robert Rubin and Abigail Disney. The group is calling for the implementation of a Responsible Estate Tax proposal that would raise new revenue while spurring deep and damaging budget cuts.

The proposal is significantly stronger than President Barack Obama’s proposal on the estate tax. The rich Americans part of this project are calling for the estate tax level to return to its pre-George W. Bush rates, which would “raise a half a trillion dollars—$536 billion—over 10 years.” Obama’s proposal, on the other hand, “leaves $256 billion of that revenue on the table,” the group says,

The proposal calls for a “4 million per couple exemption and a graduated rate starting at 45%.”

“I can afford to pay the estate tax, and I should,” said Disney. “I think a $4 million exemption for my husband and me combined is entirely reasonable. We have the choice of taxing a small percentage of the wealthiest in this country, or we can cut programs that benefit everyone. I don’t have any interest in compounding my already significant advantages, and the advantages of my children, with a weak estate tax, especially on the backs of the middle class.”

A press advisory on the proposal dismisses the claim that a higher estate tax would hit small businesses and farms. “Only 40 small farms and businesses are expected to pay any estate tax in 2012 according to the Tax Policy Center, and those that would pay it will pay only 3.1% of the estate's value on average,” the group says.

“Those of us who have signed this statement to date – including my friend Warren Buffett – believe that a $4 million exemption per couple and a 45% rate, rising on the very largest fortunes, is perfectly reasonable, and should be put into law.  Particularly in the face of the devastating cuts to social programs that are being proposed, it would be shameful to leave potential revenue on the table from those most able to pay,” Bill Gates Sr., the father of the Microsoft founder, said in a statement.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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