"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Friday, January 06, 2006
The Washington State Republican machine steps into the breach in a noble effort to save the state's beleaguered taxpayers from the ravages of a tax which doesn't exist:
Republican leaders vowed Thursday to protect family farms from the ravages of Washington's estate tax as they set their sights on killing the so-called death tax.
But they overlooked one important detail -- farms are exempt from the estate tax.
The estate tax that lawmakers passed last year allows the heirs of farmers to exempt the value of all the farmland and farm equipment. And that's in addition to a $2 million exemption for other assets.
The tax, which will be levied against the heirs of about 210 estates this year, won't force the sale of any family farms, said Department of Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow.
That fact was all but lost in the fanfare as Republicans in the House and Senate joined forces to promote their agenda for the coming Legislative session, a "contract with the State of Washington," designed to restore trust in government and improve the quality of life.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said the estate tax would be a top priority because it's particularly hard on agribusiness.
"Their land is worth so much money," he said.
Gowrylow said that doesn't matter.
"It's an unlimited deduction. Even if the farm is worth $100 million, it's exempt," he said. "To our knowledge, no family farms will be lost to the estate tax."
Of course, the people responsible for this dandy bit of demagoguery are not about to let the truth stand in the way of a good fib:
The Democratic-controlled Legislature passed the estate tax in 2005 after a state Supreme Court ruling nullified the previous tax, which had been tied to the federal estate tax. Lawmakers dedicated the revenue from the new tax to an education account. It provides $138 million in this budget period.
When asked if they had overlooked the farm exemption -- the Republican panel was stymied.
"I think (the exemption) was based around maybe hobby farms, not necessarily large-scale farms," said House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. "I haven't seen any language that would help any of the farmers in my district."
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, changed the subject.
"The issue isn't just family farms, it's about family business," Orcutt said.
Hewitt said estate tax revenue should not be seen as a long-term source of money because it is connected to the federal estate tax, which is being phased out.
But there, Hewitt was also misstating the facts.
According to Department of Revenue spokesman Gowrylow, the estate tax is completely independent of the federal tax.
Most, if not all, of these fine Republican lawmakers were actually sitting in the legislature when the estate tax law was passed, so either (a) they knew all along that this "save the family farm!" palaver was a lie, or (b) they didn't bother to learn the contents of the legislation they were debating. Either way, they ought to be ashamed.