Ranchers demand a fix for the estate tax

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose state is home to several family ranchers, has wanted to move an estate tax fix since January. But issues like health reform, a prolonged debate over extending unemployment insurance, and advancing a Wall Street reform bill have monopolized the attention of lawmakers in his chamber.

Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) have tried to advance a bipartisan fix for the tax. But more liberal members in the Senate would likely have trouble supporting it, as they feel the estate tax falls mostly on wealthy taxpayers who can afford to pay it.

Because farm and ranch assets consist mainly of land, buildings and specialized equipment, those estates look wealthy on paper. But they include few assets that can be liquidated to pay the tax without closing the business, Foglesong said. Farm and ranch estates are five to 20 times more likely to incur estate taxes than other estates.

“This is not a tax on the ‘wealthy elite,’” Foglesong said. “The wealthy can afford accountants and estate planners to help them evade the tax. ... Farmers and ranchers are often forced to sell land, equipment, or even the entire ranch just to pay off tax liabilities.”

As the August recess draws closer, other organizations will also be calling on Congress to take action on the estate tax. 

United for a Fair Economy, which has been fighting to preserve the estate tax since 1999, will host an event on July 21 with Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and several others calling on Congress to reinstate the estate tax before the August recess. Rubin is expected to discuss his reasons for supporting a permanent estate tax fix.