Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Another PA Inheritance Tax Exemption Engrafted?

On January 23, 2013, the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal reported in an article entitled Pa. House committee passes bill to end 'death tax', that the Finance Committee of the Pennsylvania House approved a bill Tuesday for further consideration by the full House that would eliminate Pennsylvania inheritance tax on family-owned businesses.
Cumberland County Republican Rep. Stephen Bloom introduced the measure, which also came up last legislative session.

"The death tax hits businesses during a time when they are most economically vulnerable, crippling our next generation of job creators," Bloom said in a statement. "This is an unnecessary loss to our economy and to the businesses that create 65 percent of Pennsylvania jobs."

House Bill 48 has 70 co-sponsors in the House and is backed by the National Federation of Independent Business in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Retailers' Association and the Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania, among others. * * *
In a prior article by Alex Nixon, entitled Proposal would exempt family businesses from Pennsylvania inheritance tax (01/16/13), the reasons for the proposed changes were discussed from the sponsors' and beneficiaries' viewpoints.
The state‘s inheritance tax can leave heirs scrambling to cover a tax bill. And many end up selling the business or taking out costly loans.

“If something were to happen suddenly to my father, there would have been tens of thousands of dollars of estate taxes owed,” said Dave Cranston Jr., president of Cranston Material Handling Equipment Corp. in Robinson. “None of us have that (money) sitting around waiting.”

Cranston owns 80 percent of the business founded by his grandfather in 1957, and his father is alive and well.

But a bill before Harrisburg lawmakers could end the worry for other family-owned companies across the state.* * *
Such relief is proposed in a fashion generally paralleling that which took effect on July 1, 2012, to exempt family farms from such taxation.  See: PA EE&F Law Blog, Family Farms Exempted from PA Inheritance Tax (07/03/12).

Reporter Melissa Daniels, of the Pennsylvania Independent, had interviewed me earlier this year as she prepared her article entitled Family owned businesses could see ‘death tax’ exemption (01/02/13).
Some Pennsylvania lawmakers say the state’s inheritance tax is inherently unfair.
While those lawmakers succeeded in eliminating the tax for family owned farms last year, this session marks round two, with family owned businesses possibly getting a break.
State Rep. Steve Bloom, R-Cumberland, will soon introduce legislation to eliminate the inheritance tax on business assets, including real estate, for children, siblings or other relatives of a decedent.
He led similar legislation last year that exempts family owned farms from paying the tax.
Bloom’s proposal chips away at the tax, rather than eliminating it altogether. But whether another exemption happens will depend on whether lawmakers can stand losing state revenue. * * *
She quoted my concerns about additional changes to Pennsylvania's Inheritance Tax law motivated by one constituency without regard to the effect upon other taxpayers.  I believe that reforms should consider the entire scope of the tax, particularly in view of the transitional and uncertain nature of the federal estate, gift, and generation-skipping tax systems.
But creating parsed-out exemptions in tax codes can create an extra layer of confusion, despite the intent, said Neil Hendershot, a Harrisburg-area attorney who specializes in estate planning.
The inheritance tax is convoluted on its face, he said, with different rates for different situations, and various reporting requirements that may or may not apply to all situations.
“It bears a review but doing it on an ad hoc basis is going to make it more and more complicated,” Hendershot said.
Hendershot said he would prefer to see the law streamlined for all asset classes, or perhaps revamped with advice from a panel of experts. Issues surround the tax, such as privacy concerns on making asset values public information, that could be part of the discussion, he said.
Pennsylvania's Inheritance Tax Laws derive from roots planted in 1826.  Pennsylvania was the first state to apply an inheritance tax, and has done so continuously since.  

Like a tree long-grown and mature, Pennsylvania's Inheritance Tax laws and administrative system may require pruning -- but not just the one low-hanging branch on one side which bothers some nearby.  It is time to examine the living purpose of, and the shadow cast by, that tree in its entirety, thoughtfully and skillfully.  

The Legislature, instead, should constitute a qualified study group to do just that, with the interests of all Pennsylvanians in mind.