|By: Joe Parker Jr.|
If it’s true that the only two things certain in this earthly life are death and taxes, then we can be sure of one thing. We will all feel the sting of higher taxes come Jan. 1, 2013, if Congress does not act during the lame duck session.
Most experts agree that we are facing approximately $500 billion in new taxes in 2013 alone. This isn’t a tax on the wealthy. On the contrary, the so called “Taxmageddon” will affect all taxpaying individuals and small businesses adding up to the largest tax increase in American history.
This combined with a series of automatic cuts, expiring payroll taxes, and other economic factors has the government teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff, threatening to take us all down when it topples over the cliff’s edge.
Here is what we’re facing. Under today’s law, tax policies in seven categories will expire at the end of 2012. An additional five of 18 new taxes from the President’s health care law will begin.
Some of the expiring tax policies include an increase of the current tax rates. Without action from Congress, the current lowest tax bracket of 10 percent will revert to 15 percent. Each tax bracket above that will increase 3 percent with the top individual tax rate increasing from 35 percent to almost 40 percent.
The capital gains tax will jump from 15 percent to 20 percent and the maximum rate on dividends will skyrocket to 39.6 percent. These taxes will go up for everyone, including those in the lower income tax bracket who pay no taxes on long-term gains.
These and other increases will affect each of us in different ways, but the single expiring tax policy with the potential to wipe out large parts of rural Texas and the ranching industry is the estate tax, or more commonly known as the death tax. Without reform by the end of the year, estate tax rates will rise to 55 percent on estates worth just $1 million per person.
A million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but when you talk about ranchers, very few of us are millionaires. Our wealth lies in our assets—all of which have been paid for over generations of hard work. These assets include livestock, equipment, structures like barns and fences, and of course, land. Most multigenerational ranching land has increased in value over the years, but margins in the ranching business stay thin and cash isn’t readily handy.
If Uncle Sam were to knock on my door and demand millions in taxes, I’d have no choice but to sell my family’s assets to come up with the cash. What’s even worse is that the estate tax is imposed after each generation passes, meaning it’s paid over and over every time it’s handed down. Coincidentally, my family’s land and heritage are sold off piece by piece over the years to pay the tax bill.
It’s important to remember that this is the same land that provides us with a safe and abundant food supply here at home.
Approximately 97 percent of American farms and ranches are owned and operated by families. The estate tax is considered to be one of the leading causes of the breakup of these multigenerational farms and ranches. If this tax is not reformed by the end of the year, many ranchers will have to pay the 55 percent tax and/or continue to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to avoid the tax. Those who can’t afford the tax or the legal fees stand to lose it all.
Congress has a golden opportunity to fix this problem. Members of Congress have a few options from which to choose. They can eliminate the estate tax all together. This would be the first choice for most ranchers since it would eliminate uncertainty. It would also allow us to pass on the ranch to our children and grandchildren without penalty.
If elimination of the estate tax for ranchers isn’t possible because of gridlock in Congress, then they could make the current estate tax rates and exemption amounts permanent. This would make the 35 percent tax rate on everything greater than the $5 million per person exemption permanent and go a long way to help ease the tax burden for ranchers.
We do know that doing nothing is a bad option, and if this is the route Congress takes, it will be a very sad day for the U.S. cattle industry and the rural way of life we’ve worked hard to preserve. Members of Congress and the President must come together and reform the taxes that are scheduled to expire. If they fail to do so, it will be ranchers and consumers who pay the price.
Joe Parker Jr. is a third generation rancher from Clay County, Texas. He is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He is also chairman of the board and president of the First National Bank of Byers.