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Farm Groups Plea for Estate Tax Fix

posted on December 3, 2010

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Despite positive holiday retail sales and a small jump in consumer confidence the economic recovery was dealt a setback this week.

After holding steady at 9.6 percent for three months, the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 9.8 percent. The increase continues a 19-month trend where 15 million unemployed Americans are keeping the rate above a discouraging nine percent.

Factory orders – one of the standout performers during the economic comeback -- also fell for the first time since June.

Stock prices dipped on the disheartening employment news at the start of Friday's session but ended the week on a high note closing above 11,300.

The lone bright spot was in farm country where USDA estimated an increase in net farm income of more than 30 percent over last year.

But having a few extra dollars at the end of 2010 may be no consolation to your heirs. Bush-era cuts to the estate tax -- more commonly known as "The Death Tax" -- have been making it easier for farmers to pass on the family business. But the higher exemption rates enjoyed over the past few years may come to an end if the lame-duck Congress and the Obama Administration fail to reach an agreement before midnight on December 31st.

Farm Groups Plea for Estate Tax Fix

A roundup of farm groups took to Washington this week calling for government action on what critics call a "tax-raising time bomb." Spokesmen from commodity group organizations, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau each spoke on behalf of modifying the pending expiration of estate taxes.

Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation: "As many as 13 percent of farms and ranches whose owners pass away, could owe estate taxes next year. Estate taxes hit farmers harder because 84 percent of our assets are real estate based. These are USDA figures."

Farm groups warned that a cornerstone of President-Bush era tax policy is set to expire in the coming weeks, automatically enacting a litany of code changes unless Congress intervenes. Without intervention, an exemption level of $1 million and a 55 percent tax rate would begin on January 1, 2011.

Dubbed by opponents as the "death tax," estate taxes have long-been the bane of America's largest business operations including some in agriculture.

President George W. Bush: "Finally, the United States Congress realized how unfair the death tax is to the people who make a living on the farm. And finally we repealed the death tax." (June 8, 2002)

President Bush claimed victory over estate taxes during his first term but the law established provisions to ratchet down the income exemption levels and tax rates until its "sunset" date of December 31, 2010.

President George W. Bush: "For the good of American agriculture, let's make sure that death tax is forever buried and forever done away with." (June 8, 2002)

But Bush was unsuccessful in his bid to make his estate tax provisions permanent leading to this month's pending change. Some of the uncertainty has rested at the feet of America's next generation of farmers. Scott Bennett, a college student whose family raises cattle in Virginia, pleaded for government action for his future career.

Scott Bennett, NCBA: "Colleagues in the industry joke about how 2010 is the year to die but I don't think it's funny. I want to graduate college and return to my farm and my family. Relief is needed and it's needed badly. I wish Congress would wake up and preserve the family farm."

For the farm groups in Washington this week, most of the rhetoric appeared to accept that some version of estate taxes would remain but each speaker maintained a strong push for structured reform.

Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation: "This is why Farm Bureau is calling on Congress now to provide a permanent estate tax provision that would increase the exemption level to $5 million adjusted for inflation. And reduce the maximum tax rate to 35 percent."

Roger Johnson, President National Farmers Union: "It's hard to make long-term plans when you don't know how the long-term policies are going to be. We all are saying lets raise the exemption period, let's lower the tax rate and bring some certainty back to this industry."

Tags: agriculture farmers George W. Bush lobbyists news