By TIM HEARDEN
A national ranchers' group is again backing a bill in Congress to repeal the estate tax, which many say complicates their ability to pass on their operations to future generations.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, have authored the latest legislation to abolish what critics call the "death tax," which now kicks in on individual estates larger than $5.12 million and has a top rate of 40 percent.
Thune and Brady were joined at a news conference last week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other lawmakers, including Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina. Steve Foglesong, an Illinois cattleman, told reporters the estate tax is essentially a death warrant for small- to medium-sized family businesses.
"America's farm and ranch families should not be forced to sell off land, farm equipment, parts of the operation or the entire ranch to pay off tax liabilities and attorney fees," Foglesong, a former National Cattlemen's Beef Association president, said.
The Death Tax Repeal Act of 2013 is only the latest in a string of such bills the NCBA has supported in recent years. Bills in the past have proposed phasing the tax out over 10 years and allowing landowners to defer estate taxes as long as their property is kept in agriculture, conservation or other open-space uses.
Farm groups have long targeted 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.
The current rates were made permanent as part of the "fiscal cliff" budget deal that Congress approved in January, although President Barack Obama has since proposed that the estate tax revert in 2018 to its 2009 levels -- an exemption of $3.5 million for an individual or $7 million for a married couple at a maximum tax rate of 45 percent. The NCBA and Public Lands Council voiced opposition to that plan.
Though the political environment in Washington, D.C., hasn't changed since past attempts at repealing the estate tax have failed, the NCBA will continue to fight the tax "until it's gone," said Kent Bacus, the organization's associate director of legislative affairs.
"With comprehensive tax reform likely in this Congress we want to continue to make the estate tax a priority," Bacus said. "Congress and the White House should remember farmers and ranchers are small businesses that are impacted by the estate tax."
National Cattlemen's Beef Association: http://www.beefusa.org/