This Letter Won't Write Itself: The Estate Tax

As the battle in Congress over the estate tax heats up, it is critical to make your voice heard. The estate tax doesn’t just impact wealthy billionaires. Policies that favor the rich affect everyone.

That's right -- if you rely on your paycheck each month to make rent, you have a stake in the estate tax.

Over the past decade, we have seen a massive transfer of wealth from hard-working middle class people to the rich. Today, the richest one percent of Americans own a whopping 36 percent of the wealth in this country. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent of American households. 

Our economy is no accident; it’s not like a hurricane or tornado that just occurs naturally. Our economy is the direct result of deliberate policy decisions made in favor of the rich and at the expense of the middle class. And if you think that’s unfair, it’s time to make your voice heard.

So get mad, grab a computer, and start writing! Compose a letter to the editor to tell your neighbors, friends, and community why a strong estate tax is both a common sense solution for addressing our nation’s budget woes and a critical part of a fair and equitable tax system.

Here are a few talking points, phrases, and tips to help you write a zinger of a letter.

First, a few need-to-know points about the estate tax:

  • It only affects those who can afford it
    In 2009, you only had to pay the estate tax if your individual estate was more than $3.5 million or $7 million for a couple. Only 1 in 500 estates were expected to pay the tax in 2009 (that’s just 5,500 per year). This overwhelmingly does not include family farms and small businesses (only 110 each year in the entire nation would qualify).
  • It encourages charitable donations
    Getting rid of the estate tax would devastate our non-profit sector by removing the tax incentive to give. Experts predict that charitable donations would decrease between 23 and 40 percent.
  • We can’t afford NOT to tax millionaires and billionaires
    Talk about irresponsible financial management -- permanent repeal of the estate tax would cost over $1 trillion dollars in the first decade, which includes lost revenue and interest payments on our ballooning national debt.

Second, a few phrases to help you drive the point home:

  • Millionaires and billionaires should be giving to charity, not getting it.
  • We should be making a down payment on our national debt rather than taxing our children to create tax giveaways for the wealthy.
  • Politicians who think the rich aren’t rich enough have been spending too much time with lobbyists, bankers, and CEOs – or getting too much campaign money from them.
  • More economic demand is what creates jobs, not tax breaks.  More tax breaks for dead multi-millionaires do not create jobs.

Finally, a few writing tips:

  • KISS your letters (keep it simple, stupid). A concise, clear letter is easier for your readers to comprehend. Crank it out and send it off.
  • Refer to something specific that was printed in the paper the past few days. Explain why you agree or disagree with the writer.
  • Give your letter a local flavor by including how many estates in your state paid the tax. Find out here (pdf).   
  • Tell your story; make it personal. How do tax cuts for the wealthy like the estate tax impact your life?

Once you’re done, zip it off to your local paper (you can find the email here) and email it to United for a Fair Economy at [email protected]. And then keep the pressure on. After all, tax policies won’t change themselves.

Image by c. cich on Flickr.

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