WASHINGTON -- Some of America's wealthiest individuals have declined billions
of dollars in tax cuts bestowed upon them by President George W. Bush's administration
and have urged others among the country's richest and most famous to donate their
federal tax cuts to campaigns against the Bush package, often described as ''tax
breaks for the rich.''
''It's obscene that Washington is handing out tax breaks to millionaires with
one hand and shredding the safety net with the other,'' said Marta Drury, a
member of Responsible Wealth, a national network of affluent Americans advocating
what they term ''widespread prosperity'' and concerned that a deepening wealth
divide in America is undermining the country's social and democratic fabric.
''So I'm calculating my 2004 tax cut and donating it to organizations fighting
for responsible, fair, and adequate taxes. I don't believe that people like
me with incomes over $200,000 need $69 billion in tax cuts,'' Drury added, referring
to the total estimated value of 2004 tax cuts granted Americans in her income
Responsible Wealth, founded in 1997 and claiming 1,000-plus members, has stood
at the forefront of what Time magazine termed the ''billionaire backlash'' against
elite tax cuts and Bush's proposal to repeal the estate tax. On Wednesday, members
urged others in the ranks of America's rich and famous to join the ''Responsible
Tax Pledge'' initiative.
The tax pledge asked members to calculate their 2004 tax breaks and donate
these to fair-tax campaigns. For wealthy individuals like Drury, the average
estimated tax break in 2004 was $20,000. For several other pledge signatories,
it amounted to more than $100,000.
''It's irresponsible to put America deeper into debt to give tax cuts to millionaires,''
the tax pledge stated.
It said it was ''wrong to give tax cuts to the wealthy instead of investing
in education, research, job training, affordable housing, a healthy environment,
vaccines, and emergency services.''
The pledge called on Congress ''to reject more tax cuts for wealthy Americans,
roll back the existing tax cuts for the very wealthy instead of making them
permanent, and support responsible, fair, and adequate taxes.''
Taxpayers who made more than $1 million received an average federal income
tax break of $123,592 in 2004, according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint project
of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution think tanks. This compared
to $383, the average tax break in 2004 for the two-thirds of taxpayers who made
less than $50,000 per year.
''The next time a politician says we can't afford to fund something you care
about, ask yourself if $69 billion per year would help,'' said Scott Klinger,
Responsible Wealth's co-director. ''When you hear that the only choices we have
are to cut budgets, increase the deficit or increase your taxes, remember that
$69 billion in tax breaks went to people who made more than $200,000 last year.''
Bill Gates Sr., co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation--the largest
foundation on Earth--and father of the Microsoft Corp. co-founder, has spearheaded
Responsible Wealth's campaign to oppose regressive changes to the tax code and
to reform and preserve the estate tax.
The tax is levied against estates of more than $1.5 million where assets are
not transferred to a surviving spouse and thus applies to about 2 percent of
all inheritance cases, Responsible Wealth said.
Even so, permanently repealing the tax as Bush has proposed would cut federal
revenue by $1 trillion over two decades and have the effect of depressing charitable
giving by $12-24 billion per year, Responsible Wealth said, citing Congressional
Budget Office figures.
The elder Gates for years has argued that individual wealth is a product not
only of hard work and smart choices but also of a society that provides economic
development, education, health care, and property rights protection. Such an
economy's top dogs benefit the most from tax-funded institutions and programs
and therefore should not resent or seek relief from having to pay taxes, he
He still has some convincing to do.
Facing off against Gates and Responsible Wealth are families including the
widow and heirs of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton and influential lobby
groups including the National Federation of Independent Business.
Led by Sam Walton's only daughter, Alice, the family spent $3.2 million on
lobbying, conservative causes, and candidates for last year's federal elections.
''That's more than double what it spent in the previous two elections combined,''
USA Today reported Wednesday, citing public documents.
The Waltons have sought income tax changes and other legislation that could
preserve their shareholding in America's biggest business and the family's $84
billion fortune, the newspaper said.
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