Legislature(2001 - 2002)

01/29/2002 08:03 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 35-REPEAL ESTATE TAX                                                                                                      
Number 0063                                                                                                                     
CHAIR COGHILL  announced that  the only  business would  be HOUSE                                                               
JOINT RESOLUTION  NO. 35,  Relating to  urging the  United States                                                               
Congress to  amend the tax  code to permanently repeal  the death                                                               
Number 0102                                                                                                                     
HEATH HILYARD,  Staff to  Representative Jeannette  James, Alaska                                                               
State Legislature,  presented HJR 35 on  behalf of Representative                                                               
James,  sponsor.   He  compared HJR  35  to HJR  34  - which  was                                                               
introduced  by  Representative  Coghill during  the  Twenty-First                                                               
Alaska  Legislative Session  - as  being similar  in wording  and                                                               
nearly identical  in intent.   He explained the main  reason [the                                                               
sponsor]  had chosen  to  revisit  the issue  was  that in  2002,                                                               
President Bush signed  into law a tax-relief Act  that included a                                                               
temporary repeal of  the so-called death tax  that would "sunset"                                                               
in 2010.                                                                                                                        
MR. HILYARD forewarned the committee  that his scope of knowledge                                                               
on federal  tax policy was  limited, but  said he had  received a                                                               
"crash course" while researching [HJR  35].  He stated his belief                                                               
that there is  ample evidence to support the repeal  of the death                                                               
tax and, therefore, to support [HJR 35].                                                                                        
Number 0189                                                                                                                     
MR. HILYARD offered the following:                                                                                              
     As indicated  in the sponsor  statement, not  only does                                                                    
     the  death  tax   disproportionately  tax  several  ...                                                                    
     demographic groups,  it also  does not justify  its own                                                                    
     existence from a fiscal perspective.                                                                                       
     In  the  same study  cited  in  the sponsor  statement,                                                                    
     using very  sophisticated econometric  models, analysts                                                                    
     believe that  had the  tax been  repealed in  1996, the                                                                    
     nation's economy  would have yielded an  average of $11                                                                    
     billion  in additional  output, created  an average  of                                                                    
     [145,000]  new jobs,  and  personal  income would  have                                                                    
     increased  by  an  average  of   $8  billion  over  the                                                                    
     following  nine years.   The  overall  increase in  the                                                                    
     national economy  would have created  enough additional                                                                    
     revenue  to  compensate for  that  ...  which had  been                                                                    
     generated by the tax.                                                                                                      
MR. HILYARD  noted that he  had recently received a  statement of                                                               
support for  HJR 35, included  in the committee packet,  from the                                                               
National Federation  of Independent Business [NFIB],  Alaska.  He                                                               
read from that statement as follows:                                                                                            
     In  addition  to the  tax  itself,  thousands of  small                                                                    
     businesses  are impacted  each year  by expensive  fees                                                                    
     paid  to  attorneys,  accountants,  and  life  insurers                                                                    
     necessary  to ...  prepare for  an  eventual death  tax                                                                    
MR.  HILYARD  welcomed questions  from  the  House State  Affairs                                                               
Standing Committee.                                                                                                             
Number 0322                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE FATE  asked Mr. Hilyard  to define  the difference                                                               
between death tax and estate tax.                                                                                               
MR. HILYARD responded  that his understanding was  that the death                                                               
tax and estate tax, although not  identical, are part of the same                                                               
tax  Act under  federal law.   He  explained that  the death  tax                                                               
would tax  the earnings of  inheritors with respect to  the total                                                               
value of  the estate.   Regarding the determination of  value and                                                               
amount  of tax  applied, Mr.  Hilyard noted  there are  "somewhat                                                               
complicated models."                                                                                                            
Number 0389                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  COGHILL  stated  his  understanding  that  the  death  tax                                                               
encompasses the estate tax.                                                                                                     
Number 0420                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE  said [he  supported  HJR  35]; however,  he                                                               
asked  if the  nomenclature was  proper.   He suggested  that the                                                               
term "death tax" connotes that there  is one tax - it's singular.                                                               
He noted that there are  "several winding roads" when considering                                                               
estate taxes,  which are  not simple.   He  stated that  he hoped                                                               
that [the  resolution] does  not connote  that a  death tax  is a                                                               
simple thing.  He expressed his  concern that the language of the                                                               
resolution could be misinterpreted.                                                                                             
Number 0493                                                                                                                     
MR. HILYARD told Representative Fate  that he believed the formal                                                               
title of  the federal Act  relating to  [the death tax]  could be                                                               
found [on  page 1,  lines 4-5  of HJR 35],  which reads  in part:                                                               
"the federal estate and generation-skipping transfer tax".                                                                      
Number 0517                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE  reminded  Mr.   Hilyard  that  the  federal                                                               
legislation "would  not encompass  it if it  was piecemeal."   He                                                               
continued as follows:                                                                                                           
     It  did  not  address   the  whole  broad  spectrum  of                                                                    
     inheritance  taxes.   It  only just  chewed  away at  a                                                                    
     little bit.  And there  was some cause for some concern                                                                    
     about the  lack of all-encompassing taxes,  as a matter                                                                    
     of  fact, in  that.   So,  we cannot  compare what  the                                                                    
     legislation  was at  the federal  level with  what this                                                                    
Number 0556                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  JAMES agreed  that  estate tax  is a  complicated                                                               
issue.  If it should "go  away," as the resolution proposes, many                                                               
other changes  would have to  be made, particularly in  regard to                                                               
capital  gains,  she  added.     She  mentioned  all-encompassing                                                               
decisions and removing unfair tax.  She continued:                                                                              
     Probably,  if people  were to,  as an  example, inherit                                                                    
     some property,  the way it  is currently,  they inherit                                                                    
     the property  at the fair  market value at the  time of                                                                    
     the  death.   And that's  where the  recipient pays  no                                                                    
     taxes, but  the tax is paid  from the estate.   If that                                                                    
     were  to change,  then ...  the amount  that you  would                                                                    
     receive, you  would have to  get it at the  base value,                                                                    
     not the  fair market value.   So,  at some time  in the                                                                    
     future  when that  property was  sold  for more  money,                                                                    
     someone would be paying taxes on that capital gain.                                                                        
     I don't think  that we have any intent to  do away with                                                                    
     making  some  capital  gains not  taxable  at  all  and                                                                    
     others taxable, because that wouldn't  be fair.  People                                                                    
     understand  what fairness  is.   So, it's  assumed that                                                                    
     when  they do  this  that they'll  make  all the  other                                                                    
     adjustments that they  have made, in order  to tax this                                                                    
     entity, as  opposed to  taxing the  people who  are the                                                                    
     recipients - that those changes will be made.                                                                              
     And Representative  Fate is absolutely correct.   Every                                                                    
     single tax  we have on  the books, and in  a particular                                                                    
     case, if  we were to  say here, repeal the  income tax,                                                                    
     how  entangled that  would be  to fill  out that  whole                                                                    
     bundle of changes  over the years.  And  yet there's an                                                                    
     awful lot of other adjustments  that have to be made to                                                                    
     make it  fair and equitable  over time.  I  don't think                                                                    
     there's  any intent  to not  have people  pay taxes  on                                                                    
     capital gains.   I think the issue is:   do you need to                                                                    
     sell it  to pay the taxes  when the death occurs.   And                                                                    
     sometimes that destroys family  businesses, and I don't                                                                    
     think that's fair.                                                                                                         
Number 0752                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE WILSON referred to  [lines 1-2] of the resolution,                                                               
which read, in part, "to permanently  repeal the death tax."  She                                                               
said that appeared  to be "pretty encompassing."   She emphasized                                                               
the  importance of  supporting [HJR  35], because  the population                                                               
that  is   adversely  affected  by   [the  death   tax]  includes                                                               
minorities  and  small  businesses  in  Alaska.    Representative                                                               
Wilson added  that the [misconception]  is that  [the resolution]                                                               
would solely help rich people.                                                                                                  
Number 0827                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  CRAWFORD  asked Mr.  Hilyard  at  what point  the                                                               
death  tax  "kicks  in."    He asked  whether  it  is  the  total                                                               
valuation or  the net valuation.   He added,  "As far as  I know,                                                               
it's the assets minus the liabilities."                                                                                         
Number 0876                                                                                                                     
MR. HILYARD answered that regarding  the point at which it "kicks                                                               
in," he  understood it ranged  between $10,000 and $100,000.   He                                                               
stated his  suspicion that those  numbers were  "accelerators" in                                                               
terms of the  total tax rate.  He  suggested Representative James                                                               
would have more  knowledge of the matter.  With  respect to total                                                               
valuation, he  said the other  standard tended to be  fair market                                                               
value.   He surmised that  fair market value would  be determined                                                               
by combining assets and liabilities to derive the total value.                                                                  
Number 0949                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES mentioned the  accelerated value of property                                                               
and rising  "past the estate-tax  level."  She remarked  that she                                                               
had not  done a generation-skipping tax  return for approximately                                                               
15  years.    Because  she  has  not  done  consulting  recently,                                                               
Representative James  said she  was not  certain of  the "level";                                                               
however, she  said it was  formerly at  $600,000.  She  said many                                                               
people  were  considered  rich who  were  not  actually  wealthy,                                                               
because of  the assets  which they  had accumulated.   Homesteads                                                               
and property values have accelerated  so much over the years, she                                                               
noted, that  there would  be considerably  more people  in Alaska                                                               
now  versus in  the  past  who would  be  subject to  generation-                                                               
skipping tax,  without the  bequeather making  arrangements prior                                                               
to  their  deaths  to  transfer   their  property  by  allowable,                                                               
nontaxable methods.  She concluded:                                                                                             
     I don't  know what  that answer  is, but  regardless of                                                                    
     what  the  answer  is,  I   believe  that  it  grossly,                                                                    
     negatively  affects  an  awful  lot  of  families  when                                                                    
     they've been  able to  accumulate valued  property that                                                                    
     has a lot of capital gains on it over the years.                                                                           
Number 1071                                                                                                                     
MR. HILYARD  repeated that he  could not answer what  the current                                                               
standards are.   He said  one key piece of  legislation currently                                                               
before  Congress is  S. 275,  the Estate  Tax Elimination  Act of                                                               
2001.   He noted that  this bill  proposes to repeal  all federal                                                               
death taxes  immediately, to exempt  approximately $3  million in                                                               
family   assets  from   capital  gains   taxation,  and   to  tax                                                               
intergenerational wealth  transfers above  [this amount]  and cap                                                               
that at about 20 percent.                                                                                                       
Number 1145                                                                                                                     
CHAIR COGHILL  commented that  he did  not know  when [Americans]                                                               
got to the place where they  thought the government had the first                                                               
claim on  their inheritance.   He emphasized his  appreciation of                                                               
the  resolution.    Though  the  [House  State  Affairs  Standing                                                               
Committee] would not be settling  the actual dollar amount, Chair                                                               
Coghill  expressed  the  need  for  the  committee  to  send  the                                                               
resolution to Congress  to encourage its members  to consider how                                                               
much of people's life inheritance should be taken from them.                                                                    
Number 1205                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD mentioned that  Congress had debated this                                                               
issue and  had decided that "if  two parents die, the  first $1.2                                                               
million is for free."  He said  he was not certain to what amount                                                               
that  may have  been  raised.   He  stated  his  opinion that  an                                                               
inheritance of more than $1.2  million, whether it was stocks and                                                               
bonds  or  real  estate,  should   still  be  considered  income;                                                               
therefore, it was  unfair to tax those with  incomes from regular                                                               
employment, but not tax those  who inherit more than $1.2 million                                                               
[in assets].   He said,  "It seems to me  like a real  unfair tax                                                               
break for  somebody to  get so  much money at  one point  and not                                                               
have to pay a tax on it."                                                                                                       
Number 1334                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES responded as follows:                                                                                      
     What  they're  capitalizing  here   is  the  two  times                                                                    
     [$]600,000, which is the threshold  as to when you even                                                                    
     have  to file  a  generation-skipping  tax ...  return.                                                                    
     And like  I said,  it's been awhile  since I  have done                                                                    
     it. ... If  you get $1.2 million worth  of property, if                                                                    
     it's cash,  that's one  thing; but  if it  is property,                                                                    
     there's a basis in that  property.  And the only reason                                                                    
     it is  in this estate  is because they have  never sold                                                                    
     The whole  issue of capital  gains is a  real debatable                                                                    
     issue as to  when you're forced to sell  what you have,                                                                    
     to  be able  to pay  your taxes.   And  so, I  honestly                                                                    
     believe that in the end  result, ... they probably will                                                                    
     transfer  this  $600,000  worth   of  property  to  the                                                                    
     various,     different    beneficiaries,     and    the                                                                    
     beneficiaries will put it on  their books at the basis,                                                                    
     not the value.                                                                                                             
     That's  the ...  issue. ...  If there's  no tax  on it,                                                                    
     then  it comes  to you  at the  basis.   If you  have a                                                                    
     piece of property that the  basis of it is $250,000 and                                                                    
     it's now worth $700 million  and you inherit this piece                                                                    
     of property,  it's going to  be worth $250,000  to you.                                                                    
     And if you  sell it, you're going to have  to pay taxes                                                                    
     on the  value of it -  you, because now you're  the one                                                                    
     that's  earning that  capital gain.    I don't  believe                                                                    
     there's any  intent in doing away  with the inheritance                                                                    
     tax, doing  away with allowing people  to enlarge their                                                                    
     estate. ... And when they  liquidate it, it gets taxed,                                                                    
     not  before.    And  what   ...  the  problem  is  with                                                                    
     inheritance  tax is  it's taxed  the minute  the person                                                                    
     dies and so, therefore, no  one gets the opportunity to                                                                    
     have that property at its  basis, instead of at the ...                                                                    
     accelerated price.                                                                                                         
Number 1469                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  FATE clarified  that the  issue was  inheritance,                                                               
not gifting  to someone outside  the immediate family.   He cited                                                               
the example of parents who do not  have a large cash flow, but do                                                               
have property, bequeathing that property  to their offspring.  At                                                               
the time  of the parents'  death, he continued, that  property is                                                               
taxed to  the extent  that their inheritors  can't pay  the taxes                                                               
and lose  the property.  He  added, "Why even have  the incentive                                                               
to  produce all  your  life, if  you  can't pass  it  on to  your                                                               
Number 1555                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  CRAWFORD cited  an example  of a  personal friend                                                               
who had inherited  stocks and bonds from her parents  - an estate                                                               
valued at approximately $10 million.   The first $1.2 million was                                                               
tax-free,  but she'd  had  to pay  tax on  the  stocks and  bonds                                                               
exceeding  that amount.   Representative  Crawford asked  if that                                                               
sort of income would be exempt or included under this plan.                                                                     
Number 1595                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES responded that the  provision is part of the                                                               
inheritance  tax -  the  federal  estate and  generation-skipping                                                               
transfer tax.   If  that law  is taken off  the books,  she said,                                                               
then those issues  will have to be addressed  separately in laws,                                                               
because this  exemption would not  still exist, since it  is part                                                               
of the federal estate tax.   Representative James stated that she                                                               
did not believe  that [Congress] would transfer  large amounts of                                                               
property  to persons  at the  fair market  value at  the date  of                                                               
death,  if  the  estate  tax  is  abolished.    Conversely,  [the                                                               
property] would  be transferred at the  basis - or cost  - of it,                                                               
and when [the  inheritor] liquidates [the property],  tax will be                                                               
due on the income.                                                                                                              
Number 1673                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  COGHILL  credited  Representative   James  for  making  an                                                               
excellent point.   He issued a reminder that the  property in the                                                               
aforementioned  example  had  already  been  taxed  through  [the                                                               
benefactor's] lifetime,  so the  government had  already received                                                               
its  share  of any  capital  gain  "all  the  way down  the  road                                                               
anyway."   He reiterated Representative James's  comment that the                                                               
property  would  be taxed  when  liquidated,  and he  added  that                                                               
therefore  the  government would  be  receiving  its share.    He                                                               
clarified the  point was  to ask  if, at  the termination  of the                                                               
bequeather's  life, the  asset could  be transferred  without the                                                               
government's getting more than the inheritors.                                                                                  
Number 1710                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE   CRAWFORD   expressed   the  need   for   further                                                               
clarification.  He  referred to his previous  example and pointed                                                               
out  that, to  his knowledge,  the  stock had  never been  taxed,                                                               
other than dividends; none of the  gain had ever been taxed, from                                                               
the time  that his  friend's parents bought  the stock  until the                                                               
time  she inherited  it from  them.   Her parents  had given  her                                                               
gifts of  $10,000 for  each birthday to  "transfer that,  so that                                                               
they could beat some of those  taxes at death," he said; however,                                                               
there was  still a considerable  amount of taxable money  left at                                                               
the time of their deaths.                                                                                                       
Number 1759                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  JAMES  stated  that   the  provisions  of  giving                                                               
$10,000  a year  tax-free  and getting  the  $1.2 million  exempt                                                               
would no longer  exist if the federal estate  tax and generation-                                                               
skipping transfer taxes were abolished.  She continued:                                                                         
     What happens,  then, is  the same  as if  anybody would                                                                    
     give you anything today:   Your family transferred this                                                                    
     property  to  you,  which  is   worth  $1  million,  or                                                                    
     whatever, and  it never has  been sold.   They transfer                                                                    
     it  to you  before they  die, and  you take  it at  the                                                                    
     basis.   In other  words, if they  had $250,000  in it,                                                                    
     you take it.   The tax is not paid  until that property                                                                    
     is   liquidated,  and   then  the   capital  gains   is                                                                    
     recognized by  whoever is selling  it.  That's  part of                                                                    
     the  estate  tax  that  we're  talking  about,  is  the                                                                    
     unfairness that's  in the  estate tax.   If  the estate                                                                    
     tax goes  away, we'll be  having the same  provision as                                                                    
     if  I  gave  you  something  today.    If  I  gave  you                                                                    
     something  today  and it  was  an  inheritance type  or                                                                    
     whatever,  I'd have  to pay  the tax.   If  I gave  you                                                                    
     something  that  was worth  $10,000,  that  I only  had                                                                    
     $2,000 in it,  and if I give that to  you today, I have                                                                    
     to pay  the tax  immediately on the  difference between                                                                    
     the two  and the ten.   You don't have to  pay anything                                                                    
     because it's a gift to you.                                                                                                
     ... If you take the estate  tax away, if I want to give                                                                    
     you something  that is  $10,000 worth  and I  only have                                                                    
     [$2,000] in  it, the only  thing I  can do is  will you                                                                    
     that at  the $2,000 value  at some time in  the future.                                                                    
     And you  liquidate that -  then you'll have to  pay the                                                                    
     taxes  because  you're  the   one  that's  getting  the                                                                    
     benefit from selling the property.                                                                                         
     ... All those other little  things are kind of like the                                                                    
     income tax, where  we have something, and  then we have                                                                    
     to fix  this, and this,  and this.  My  personal belief                                                                    
     is that  that tax  goes away, all  of those  things get                                                                    
     [put back] into  perspective, and there is  no real ...                                                                    
     windfall for people without the  taxes having been paid                                                                    
     on  the   ...  accelerated   capital  gains   on  these                                                                    
     properties.  That's my personal opinion.                                                                                   
Number 1876                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE FATE, as  one example of how  complex this subject                                                               
is, admitted he  didn't have an understanding of  how far spousal                                                               
exemptions extend.   He stated that without an  expert present to                                                               
testify, it  was beyond his  capability to  make a decision.   He                                                               
acknowledged Representative James's former  experience in the tax                                                               
field.   Representative  Fate expressed  his  suspicion that  the                                                               
committee  was saying  things that  were not  quite correct.   He                                                               
said HJR  35 was a "plain  bill to correct some  inequities," and                                                               
he supported it.                                                                                                                
Number 1984                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  WILSON  indicated  a need  for  clarification  of                                                               
terminology.     For   example,  she   mentioned  "basis"   as  a                                                               
potentially  unfamiliar term.    She said  whether  it's land  or                                                               
stocks  and bonds  that are  inherited,  it is  worth nothing  in                                                               
terms of cash  to the person who inherited it,  until it is sold.                                                               
Representative  Wilson concurred  with Representative  James that                                                               
the point  of sale is  when the inheritor  is taxed.   She stated                                                               
her understanding  that if  an inheritance tax  is levied  at the                                                               
point of inheritance,  often the inheritor is forced  to sell the                                                               
inheritance to get the money [to pay the tax].                                                                                  
Number 2063                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE    CRAWFORD    surmised    that    according    to                                                               
Representative  James's previous  example, if  his aforementioned                                                               
friend never sold  the stock that she inherited and  passed it on                                                               
to her  children, there still would  not have been a  transfer of                                                               
wealth.   He  said, "Maybe  she  doesn't feel  like she's  gotten                                                               
wealth, because she  hasn't spent it all yet, but  she sure seems                                                               
richer than  me.   And it  certainly seems to  me that  income is                                                               
income."    He said  before  he  would  give the  resolution  his                                                               
approval,  he would  like to  know  if land  and businesses  were                                                               
being treated separately from cash and stocks and bonds.                                                                        
Number 2129                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE FATE moved to report  HJR 35 out of committee with                                                               
individual  recommendations  and  the  accompanying  zero  fiscal                                                               
REPRESENTATIVE HAYES asked Mr. Hilyard  what the vote in Congress                                                               
MR.  HILYARD clarified  that Representative  Hayes was  inquiring                                                               
about the  temporary appeal.  He  said he did not  know the final                                                               
vote; however, at  the time of the analysis which  he studied, it                                                               
was  his   belief  that  [congressional]  H.R.   330  was  widely                                                               
supported, with 149 cosponsors.                                                                                                 
[An objection was stated to the motion.]                                                                                        
Number 2185                                                                                                                     
A roll call vote was  taken.  Representatives Fate, Hayes, James,                                                               
Stevens,  Wilson,  and  Coghill  voted for  moving  HJR  35  from                                                               
committee.      Representative   Crawford   voted   against   it.                                                               
Therefore,  HJR 35  was  moved  out of  the  House State  Affairs                                                               
Standing Committee by a vote of 6-1.                                                                                            
CHAIR COGHILL stated his intent to cosponsor the resolution.                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE FATE indicated the same.  [HJR 35 was moved out                                                                  
of committee.]                                                                                                                  

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