Sunday, October 3, 2010

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE -- Odds On No Action On Estate Tax This Year Just Went Through The Roof

Its October 1, and there is still no action pending on Federal Estate Tax this year. Based upon several well publicized remarks, including a speech by Charles Grassley on the floor of the Senate and an op-ed piece by Robert Rubin in the Wall Street Journal ("Bring Back The Estate Tax Now"), it is fair to say that, with one quarter left in 2010, policymakers have finally noticed that the tax is coming back at only a $1 Million exemption and a 55% rate next year.

With an election looming in a month, there is basically no chance of action prior to Mid-November, I think that any retroactive application is now over.

I also think that a return to the $3.5 Million exemption and 45% rate is now the most likely scenario, because the government needs the money and has to get it from somewhere.

In an October 2, 2010 New York Times article entitled "TARP Bailout to Cost Less Than Once Anticipated" there is a good opportunity to imagine, as a legislator, (or even a top aide, like all those guys and gals in "The West Wing") how you would (a) address this issue and more importantly (b) explain it to your constituents.

It is no easy task. The New York Times article mentioned above, for example, points out that, according to one poll, 3 out of 10 voters are against the"bailout" even though the bailout is not going to cost $700 billion and may actually make money for the government. In another New York Times article "In Tax Cut Plan, Debate Over the Definition of 'Rich'" (Sept. 30, 2010) is a very thorough dissertation on one of the major issues in tax policy -- who, exactly, are "the rich?"

The only thing missing is the one fact which is rarely discussed, tax policy must address distribution of whatever it is that is being taxed. (It is rarely discussed because it is not entertaining enough, that is for sure!) For example, imagine an economic system with one peasant who is only paid in food, who works for the farm owner. The farm owner, who is "only 50% of the population" pays "100% of the taxes." He pays 100% of the taxes because he makes 100% of the income. The U.S. economy is more complex than that, but the principal is the same, in order to raise money you have to levy taxes on actual streams of income or assets -- you cannot just tax "in theory."

So, now read the two articles and figure out the best solution. (I know I don't know the best solution, that is for sure!) Remember, these are the guidelines:

(i) if you actually apply the taxation to those who have the money, you are vulnerable to the argument that "so and so voted to have 5% of the population pay 37% of the tax";

(ii) you know the average voter basically does not like rich people, since a program to essentially stabilize one of the worst recessions in memory is thoroughly demonized even though it may actually be profitable for the taxpayers, basically on the grounds that people don't like banks; and

(iii) no one agrees on who the "rich" are -- at least no one agrees based on any logic.

Good luck. And if you ever wonder why the Internal Revenue Code is complicated, or why politicians only speak in sound bits with no substance, imagine trying to explain these considerations in 30 seconds.

Posted by Henry (Hank) J. Moravec, III, a partner at Moravec, Varga & Mooney. For a complimentary 30 minute consultation (telephonic or in person), you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210 or (818) 769-4221.

He focuses his practice on Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Administration, Beneficiary and Trustee Representation, Probate Litigation, Tax Law, and Nonprofit Law. He represents clients throughout Southern California and his offices are conveniently located for clients in the Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Barbara, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/. The firm has two offices and consultations and meetings can be held at either office. The San Gabriel Valley office is located at 2233 Huntington Drive, Suite 17, San Marino, California 91108. Telephone: (626) 793-3210.

The San Fernando Valley office is located at 4605 Lankershim Boulevard, Suite 718, North Hollywood, California 91602-1878. Telephone: (818) 769-4221.