The estate tax: A cornerstone of Washington State’s revenue

The governor’s race in Washington State has been especially heated this year, with both candidates promising to balance the budget and help working class people. But as economic conditions have changed, so have the candidate’s plans.

Recently, the Everett Herald reported gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi would suspend his plan to eliminate Washington’s estate tax; promising to do away with it after balancing the budget.

But Washington’s estate tax is vital to the health of our state economy—especially during economic uncertainty.

Since its inception in 2005, revenues from the estate tax have been earmarked for education, providing quality teaching programs and encouraging success in higher education. Cutting $100 million per year in revenue is hardly the way to guarantee success for Washington’s children, and won’t help balance the state budget during a fiscal crisis, either.

Eliminating the estate tax gives a tax break to the wealthiest .5% (yes, the top one-half of one percent!) and ties the hands of our state legislators. It puts pressure on the state government to find new funding sources—typically resulting in more regressive taxes and cuts to essential services.

And the argument that the estate tax creates an unfriendly business climate is a stretch. Washington’s estate tax was carefully crafted to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on small businesses and family farms, with options to defer payments, larger exemptions and special valuations.

Washington’s wealthy families are not unfairly targeted either. In fact, a married couple with $4 million in assets can avoid estate taxes altogether with minimal planning.

The estate tax is one of Washington’s least regressive taxes. And it is a critical tool of our state government to effectively fund state programs designed to promote a better society.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the State because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government.” And the estate tax offers the wealthiest an opportunity to help future generations to achieve success and pursue the American Dream.

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