Wealthy Americans Join Tax Fight

Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Dozens of the country's wealthiest citizens are urging Congress not to repeal taxes on estates and gifts, saying the proposal would come at the expense of working-class families.

The petition drive against the repeal is being organized by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates' father, William Gates, Sr., and includes billionaire investors Warren Buffett and George Soros, and Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen.

The petition, which was signed by some 120 wealthy Americans, will appear on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times on Sunday and later in other newspapers.

President Bush has proposed phasing out estate taxes by 2009.

The petition argues that ``repealing the estate tax would enrich the heirs of America's millionaires and billionaires while hurting families who struggle to make ends meet.''

Buffett said repealing the tax ``would be a terrible mistake,'' the equivalent of ``choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics.''

In addition to billions of dollars in lost government revenue, the repeal would harm charities, to which many of the affluent make contributions as a way of reducing the size of their estates, the petition claims.

Estate taxes are assessed on the net worth of an individual at death. No tax is levied for the first $675,000 the person leaves behind, but beyond that threshold taxes are assessed at a rate ranging from 37 percent to 55 percent.

Only 2 percent of Americans who die annually pay the tax.