By Kent Bacus, NCBA manager of legislative affairs
If you’re like me, you enjoy watching the History Channel and Discovery Channel. I enjoy learning about other cultures and civilizations and listening to experts discuss how mankind has advanced throughout the years and make predictions on what the future will hold. Lately, a theme has revolved around what will happen on Dec. 21, 2012. Many ancient cultures have predicted that some major, perhaps apocalyptic, event will happen on that day. Perhaps the ancient Mayans were a few days off. For the beef industry, our real concern is what will happen after Dec. 31, 2012.
One of the most important issues facing family farmers and ranchers and small business owners nationwide is the future of the estate tax, more commonly referred to as the death tax. The death tax is one of the leading causes of the breakup of multi-generation family farms and ranches. At the time of the death, farming and ranching families are forced to sell off land, farm equipment, parts of the operation or the entire ranch to pay off tax liabilities on assets that have likely been taxed two or three times over the course of a lifetime. This outdated tax is not a tax on the wealthy. The wealthy can afford accountants and estate planners to help them evade the tax. The death tax hurts family-owned farms and ranches hardest.
Unfortunately, this is not a new issue for farmers and ranchers. As you may recall, at the end of 2010, Congress and the White House agreed to a two year tax package that included temporary estate tax relief. For now, estates worth more than $5 million per individual or $10 million per couple are taxed at a 35 percent rate. The two-year estate tax package also reinstated stepped-up basis, indexes the estate tax exemption for inflation and contains a spousal transfer of any unused estate tax exemption amount. The tax package also included a two-year extension of 2001 and 2003 income tax rates for all income levels, set the capital gains tax rate at 15 percent for two years and included a two year patch for the alternative minimum tax. All of these issues must be addressed by the end of 2012.
As Congress begins the second session of the 112th Congress, it’s time, once again, to turn our attention to providing permanent relief from the death tax. If Congress fails to act by the end of this year, the estate tax will revert to a staggering $1 million exemption with a 55 percent tax rate. Increasing production costs, rising property values and an uncertain tax code make it difficult to form a business plan, much less plan for the future of your estate. We cannot afford for the estate tax to continue being a political football that is punted year after year. We need permanency in the tax code.
As the oldest and largest national organization representing cattlemen, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) will work tirelessly seeking full and permanent estate tax relief. Members of Congress have already begun working on this issue. In fact, Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced the Death Tax Permanency Repeal Act and has support on his legislation from more than 190 bipartisan members of Congress. NCBA is a staunch supporter of Congressman Brady’s legislation. If a full repeal is not achievable, NCBA supports making the 2010 estate tax package permanent.
While there has been some discussion of movement toward comprehensive tax reform in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, it is difficult to predict what Congress and the White House will do this year. One thing is certain, however, Congress and the White House need to hear from you about why we need permanency in the estate tax. They need to know that the estate tax is not a political football. They need to understand that there are no political points to be earned by punting this issue to a later day or by kneeling on the ball to run out the clock. Join us as we continue to fight for permanent estate tax relief.
As we begin 2012, many of us are striving to keep those New Year’s resolutions we announced to our friends and families as an attempt to improve ourselves physically, intellectually or financially. For the sake of all Americans, let us hope that one of the resolutions of Congress and the White House is providing permanent estate tax relief in 2012.