Readers' views for Nov. 2, 2012
Estate tax doesn't accomplish goal
The inheritance tax, death tax or whatever, was first passed to redistribute wealth. It has not done that. Sure, the middle class is hard-hit by this tax, but the really wealthy seem to not pay it.
Two cases in point: The Westfalls mentioned in the last Capital Press and more locally, the Gertjes of Nezperce, Idaho.
The Gertje estate, of which I am most familiar, is my own family. My grandfather, George Gertje, died Jan. 1, 1940. His wife, my grandmother, Jessie Gertje, died in spring 1957. That made them pay "death" taxes twice. They could have gotten their estate to their heirs at a somewhat lower cost, but their wishes had to be honored.
Death taxes were so high in those days the tax collector allowed very low appraisals for real estate such as farmland. If the collector had not allowed such appraisals, the government soon would have owned most of the property in the country.
What it cost my grandmother to keep the estate together, I do not know but it was some. When my grandmother died, the settlement costs were considerable. She had saved money for the inheritance tax since her husband died. That was about $35,000. That didn't cover estate costs as estate costs were about $37,000. She had a little more money, and my mother dug up the rest of it, and the estate was settled.
If the estate I mentioned would have been entered into probate today, the costs would probably be so much my mother and uncles would probably let it go as the taxes would have been confiscatory. The land was appraised at less than $100 per acre in 1957. Today land sells for $2,000 per acre, and land must be appraised by a professional appraiser, so farmland would soon be government property or purchased by big investors.
As one of my neighbors likes to say, the family farm cannot be purchased every generation.
I would favor the death tax if it worked as the original planners planned. However, it does not. The poor don't have enough wealth to tax -- try getting blood out of a turnip -- and the rich have ways to avoid paying tax.
Vote 'no' on Measure 79
While driving through rural Oregon this weekend I was struck by the number of roadside signs urging voters to support Measure 79. There is already an existing statute pre-empting local governments from raising real estate transfer taxes; Measure 79 would put one in the Oregon Constitution.
I have lived in rural Oregon and am well aware of the strong belief in municipal home rule among residents living outside the Portland metro area. I tend to be sympathetic to this belief that the smartest policy decisions are made locally, and should be kept local where there is no clear, strong, and compelling statewide public interest to do otherwise.
That is why Measure 79 is so problematic. Why should we arbitrarily place yet another limit on local voters ability to make local public finance decisions? If the voters of a particular Oregon town, city or county desire to institute a real estate transfer tax, shouldn't it be their right as a community?
At a time when our state is overly reliant on the income tax, why not allow local governments to place a small tax on second homes or excessive land speculation in order to fund schools, land conservation or affordable housing? And even if Measure 79 was a good idea, why should we vote to put it in our already cluttered state constitution? There is already state statute limiting local control; this does not belong in the Constitution.
I hope my fellow Oregonians will consider these points and vote "no" on Measure 79 in November.