By TIM HEARDEN
More than 30 national farm organizations have sent a letter asking Congress to extend estate tax relief originally passed under then-President George W. Bush.
Groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council want lawmakers to at least maintain the current exemption at $5 million per person and top rate of 35 percent.
At the end of this year, the rate is set to revert to only a $1 million exemption and top rate of 55 percent as part of the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and spending cuts outlined in a 2011 budget deal.
"The 2013 change to the estate tax does a disservice to agriculture because we are a land-based, capital-intensive industry with few options for paying estate taxes when they come due," stated the letter, dated Nov. 13. "The current state of our economy, coupled with the uncertain nature of estate tax liabilities, makes it difficult for family-owned farms and ranches to make sound business decisions."
Other signees included the Agricultural Retailers Association, the American Farmland Trust, the Idaho Dairymen's Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the California-based Western Growers Association.
Farm groups have long taken aim at the estate tax, which they say forces many growers to sell part or all of the land they inherit from their deceased parents. Further, they argue uncertainty in the tax code forces farmers and ranchers to set aside valuable resources for estate planning rather than expanding their businesses.
Growers have pushed for a full repeal of what many have dubbed the "death tax." However, NCBA spokesman Chase Adams said the groups realize that's unlikely in the current political environment.
"In lieu of a repeal, we'd like to see a continuation of the $5 million exemption with a 35 percent rate," Adams said. "We do think that's achievable before the end of the year."
Adams and others say they expect estate tax relief to be part of a big fiscal package advanced during the lame-duck session. The package could also include the new farm bill, which could provide some $23 billion in savings to offset continued tax relief, NPPC spokesman Dave Warner noted.
"Both parties are staking out their positions to the far end of where they want to be," Warner said. "Hopefully they come into the middle somewhere, but I don't know what that means. Is it going to be a tax increase?
"There's a lot of other things that are part of the whole tax-money bill, things that need to get done that both sides don't have any fight over," he said. "It's just that it's all wrapped up in the tax fight."
While the Bush-era estate tax relief might be seen as a money-loser by federal number-crunchers, it kept many businesses alive, which produced more tax revenue in the long run, Warner argued.
"For us we're talking about being able to pass on your hog operation to your kids," he said. "That's why we support the estate tax numbers that were in the Bush package."
American Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.fb.org/
National Cattlemen's Beef Association: http://www.beefusa.org/
National Pork Producers Council: http://www.nppc.org/
Idaho Dairymen's Association: http://www.idahodairymens.org/
Western Growers Association: http://www.wga.com/