The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Susan Roth, 301-530-3539,
Anne Singer, 202-271-4679,

Small Business Owners Say 'Yes' to Estate Tax - Tell Opponents 'You Don't Speak For Us'

They Join United for a Fair Economy in Asking Congress and White House for Permanent Restoration of a Robust Tax on Inheritance


A group of small business owners and entrepreneurs today spoke out
in support of the estate tax, insisting that opponents of the tax have
misrepresented the interests of small businesses for their own agenda.
Coming from four different industries in four different states, these
business owners explained their support for a federal tax on inherited
wealth during a
conference call organized by United for a Fair Economy
(UFE) this morning. Each of the speakers has also signed UFE's "Call to
Preserve the Estate Tax." Amid reports of possible compromise on the
expiring Bush tax cuts, the fate of the federal estate tax remains
unclear as Congress decides this week on a tax package that will go to a
floor vote next month.

"I don't know any small business owners who are worried about
paying the estate tax," said Dave Eiffert, a signatory to United for a
Fair Economy's Call To Preserve the Estate Tax who co-founded the
Snoqualmie Falls Brewery outside of Seattle with a group of business
partners in 1997. "Opposition to the estate tax is largely pushed by
families who have enormous estates. They pay huge sums to spread
misinformation and use small business people as their poster children.
In my view, repealing or cutting the estate tax is just another
billionaire bailout that will line the pockets of the heirs and
heiresses of multi-millionaires and billionaires." The brewery employs
20 people and has annual sales of $1.2 million. "Like almost all small
business owners, I do not expect to owe the estate tax. Next time you
hear someone say small business owners oppose this tax, don't believe
Of the 5,500 estates expected to pay any tax under the 2009 rules,
only about 100, or 1.8%, of those estates will have a majority of their
assets in a small business or farm, and of those 100, the vast majority
have sufficient cash to pay the tax.
Jean Gordon co-owns Frostyaire of Arkansas, an agricultural
freezing and cold storage company bought by her parents in 1950 in
Little Rock. Gordon spoke out in favor of the estate tax, saying "At
Frostyaire, our decisions about hiring employees, purchasing equipment,
and expanding the business are not based on tax policy but on the
number of customers and the amount of product they have to store with
us. The best way to help small businesses like ours is to put more
money in the hands of the middle class who will spend the money as
customers of our businesses, rather than cutting the estate tax to
ensure that very wealthy heirs can have a larger inheritance. If
Frostyaire becomes more profitable, I would be happy to pay the tax as
my family's contribution for being part of the American economy."
Frostyaire has 45 employees and two freezer warehouses. Gordon, who has
also signed UFE's Call to Preserve the Estate Tax, expects she will
owe no estate tax under 2009 rules.
John Russell, a real estate developer from Portland, OR, said, "I
am one of the tiny fraction of small business owners who will owe the
estate tax, and that's fine with me. My success would not have been
possible without investments by the federal government, along with the
city and state, in redeveloping downtown Portland - particularly the
investments in light rail and streetcar systems. Federal tax incentives
like accelerated depreciation and selling tax credits to investors
helped me attract investment and lower our cost of doing business. I
see the estate tax as a way to pay some of those public investments and
tax incentives back to society - to help make success possible for the
next generation." His company, Russell Development, owns and operates
six office buildings and provides employment for about 50 people.
Russell has signed UFE's Call to Preserve the Estate Tax.
Russell added, "Small businesses do not pay the estate tax. Let's
be clear: the estate tax is not a small business or farm issue that has
bubbled up from the grassroots. This is an orchestrated effort funded by
some of the richest families in the country who want to get out of
paying their fair share. These wealthy individuals have used small
businesses and farms as the all-American icons to promote and front
their cause, but the facts just aren't there to back that up."
"I'm one of the 0.25% of the population who will owe the estate
tax," said Jerry Fiddler, whose high-tech business, Wind River Systems,
employed 2,000 people at its peak, before being bought by Intel for $850
million in 2009. Fiddler, a signatory to UFE's Call to Preserve the
Estate Tax, is now a venture capitalist specializing in green technology
starts ups. "Most small businesses don't come anywhere near the $3.5
million exemption. The traditional mom and pop businesses - the grocery
store, the dry cleaner, the bakery, my dad's fabric shop - just don't
have that kind of value. And most businesses, once they're beyond a
certain size, diversify their assets so paying some estate tax does not
threaten the business. The idea that we should throw out the whole
estate tax, or raise the exemption even higher than three and a half
million, on the basis of a few edge cases, is offensive, and not the way
we should make tax policy. As a small business owner and creator, I do
not want the estate tax thrown out in my name."
Given the 2009 exemption of $3.5 million per spouse, the estate tax
is paid by the wealthiest 0.25% of the population. Lee Farris, UFE's
Estate Tax Policy Coordinator noted, "Small businesses are largely
protected from the estate tax already. Multiple business-friendly
special provisions in the law mean most small businesses and farms do
not have to pay the tax. Those provisions allowed any given small
business or farm estate to pass on up to $9 million untaxed in 2009.
That's why, out of 2.4 million deaths in 2009, only about a dozen were
small business or farm estates with a lack of cash to pay the estate
tax." Farris added, "It makes no sense to set tax policy for our entire
country based on the exception rather than the rule. It's irresponsible
to shift costs onto millions of Americans by giving massive tax breaks
to thousands of wealthy heirs. That's why UFE is mobilizing our members
this week to call Congress."
UFE as an organization supports the Harkin-Sanders-Whitehouse
Responsible Estate Tax Act, which includes a $3.5 million exemption per
spouse and a graduated rate going from 45% up to 65% on estates over
$500 million ($1 billion for couples). UFE opposes the Lincoln-Kyl
proposal with its $5 million per spouse exemption, which would cost $130
billion more over 10 years than even an extension of 2009 rates. UFE
also opposes the Feinstein proposal for an unlimited farm exemption,
which would create a loophole allowing wealthy individuals to shelter
their wealth by buying farms; this would drive up the price of farmland
and hurt small farmers in the end.
Some 6,000 Americans have signed UFE's Call to Preserve the Estate
Tax; 2,000 signers expect to owe the estate tax themselves or come from
families that have already paid the tax. Among the signers are also more
than 600 owners of small businesses and farms, including all four small
business people on today's call.

United for a Fair Economy challenges the concentration of wealth and power that corrupts democracy, deepens the racial divide and tears communities apart. We use popular economics education, trainings, and creative communications to support social movements working for a resilient, sustainable and equitable economy. United for a Fair Economy believes another world is possible. We envision a global society which respects the humanity, rights, and creativity of all people.