Reduction of Double Death Tax Means More Taxes For Working Families, Say Proponents

By Brenda Flanagan

Polls show more than 60 percent of New Jersey residents aren’t dying to refuel the empty Transportation Trust Fund by raising New Jersey’s gas tax. However, suppose that gas tax hike is offset by cutting, or killing, one of New Jersey’s notorious double death levies — the estate or inheritance tax.

No ringing endorsements for that idea from a coalition called Better Choices for New Jersey, who say deep-sixing the estate tax won’t benefit working families who’d pony up extra to buy gas.

“This hope is that you’re going to pay more now, and then get a break when you die? And the reality is that it’s bait and switch. You’re not going to get it,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director for NJ Working Families.

“90 percent of the people who die in New Jersey don’t pay an estate tax. Most of us are not going to benefit one iota if the estate tax is reduced or eliminated,” said Gordon MacInnes.

To support that argument, the left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective today issued a report noting the death tax kicks in when an estate’s total value hits $675,000. Most people’s most valuable possession is their home, but the average New Jersey home’s worth may be half that — about $356,000 — with the lowest in Cumberland at $151,000 and top prices in Bergen, averaging more than $500,000.

“[The] vast majority of us will not be affected by the estate tax, when our home is included as the biggest asset,” said MacInnes.

Five counties do log home values that average more than $400,000: Bergen, Morris, Somerset, Monmouth and Cape May. Bergen County Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi claims that estate taxes involve more than just home values.

“You’re talking about any person who, out of the most populous county, who has any sort of life savings, who has any sort of pension and a house, for the most part falls over the threshold of what we currently have for our estate and inheritance tax. So, I don’t know how you argue that its merely the ‘rich’ who would be impacted by this,” she said.

Schepisi says that New Jersey’s death taxes need to be reformed because businesses owners are dying to leave. A recent survey shows 66 percent won’t retire here, and 67 percent factored estate and inheritance taxes into that decision. That’s some revenue, but if politicians eliminate the estate tax altogether — they would choke off the entire revenue stream.

“Tying a gas tax increase to a repeal of the inheritance and estate tax is wrong, and worse, it’s stupid. We can’t cut and patch our way to prosperity,” said Ann Vardeman, associate director for New Jersey Citizen Action.

Only death and taxes are certain, the old saying goes. That, and the imminent insolvency of New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund. Which taxes get raised or cut remains a lot less certain.