It shouldn't come as a surprise that a president who believes that, if you have created a business, you didn't built that yourself, is trying to make sure you don't get to leave it to your heirs.
The Wall Street Journal notes that January 20 "cannot come soon enough for the owners of family businesses." President Obama's Treasury Department is quietly rewriting rules to boost the federal estate tax.
The Journal explains what is going on in an editorial:
Since Congress does not agree that the Internal Revenue Service should suck more cash out of family firms, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is up to his usual tricks, trashing established interpretations of tax law to bypass the legislative branch.
Not even Mr. Lew has the gall to claim he can raise the federal death-tax rate of 40% without congressional approval. So the game here is to contrive ways to expose more of the value—or imagined value—of an estate to IRS revenue collectors.
Last month Mr. Lew’s Treasury announced a proposed rule to close what it calls an estate and gift tax “loophole.” Until now, the IRS permitted realistic values for portions of closely held corporations and partnerships.
For example, consider a minority stake with limited rights in a family business. While the business as a whole may have considerable value, how much would an investor be willing to pay for a small, illiquid piece of a private business that she can’t control? The typical answer is not much. On the other hand, the investor might pay handsomely for a controlling interest.
The IRS has long recognized this reality and has allowed the discounting of interests in closely held businesses to more closely reflect what they could fetch on the open market, rather than simply assigning a percentage of a firm’s overall estimated value. A lower value assigned to an asset means a smaller tax bite.
But what seems like a reasonable interpretation to some looks like a wasted revenue opportunity to the Obama Treasury. So the feds are now accepting public comments on a plan to limit discounting and thereby raise the official value of many of these stakes in family firms, exposing them to higher tax bills. Treasury is hoping to roll out a final rule before Mr. Obama departs in January.
Federal estate taxes fetch about $21 billion a year and this move would not add much to what they bring. But it would allow the Obama administration to scratch an ideological itch.
The federal death tax applies to estates above $5.45 million. As the editorial points out, many voters will think that's enough for someone to inherit. A better idea is that the government has no right, and gains nothing, by punishing families for a member's energy and business acumen.
Hillary Clinton is in favor of raising the death tax to 45 percent and bring the exemption down to $3.5 percent. It should be noted that the Clintons' family wealth is protected from tax by a family foundation.
Donald Trump would end the federal estate tax. In other words, he advocates the novel notion that families, not government, are entitled to the fruit of one's labors.