Today, Mr. Trump has proposed that the estate tax be eliminated. Assuming that he pays no federal income taxes, his proposal would make Donald Trump and his heirs a tax-free zone. The elimination of the Federal estate tax would eliminate roughly $5 billion of estate taxes for the Trump family and likely billions more for his advisors.
Until Donald Trump releases his tax returns, it must be assumed that he pays no Federal income taxes. (My personal guess is that he pays the 2.8% alternative minimum taxpayer based upon peripheral information that is available.)
Based on the totality of what Mr. Trump has produced to date with respect to tax situation, he has proposed today that he should be able to live the life of the rich and famous and never pay federal taxes. That, I would guess, is truly the Art of the Deal.
Mr. Trump makes the claim that he cannot release his tax returns while they are under audit. This claim is essentially silly for a host of reasons and perhaps means that he does not plan to release his tax returns while he is President of the United States if he is elected. Those 2016 through 2020 tax returns will unquestionably be audited if the IRS is doing its job and auditing the country's wealthiest taxpayers. Further, there has been no release of his past tax returns which must no longer be under audit.
It is now also a good time to be asking for the tax returns of his recently announced financial advisors. How many of those advisors have made billions from offshore corporations and paid no or little federal income taxes? How many of those advisors pay little or no federal income taxes because their real estate gains have been sheltered through tax free exchanges? Transparency should be expected.
One has to picture this group of billionaires lighting up cigars, sitting is a small literally smoke filled conference room and recommending to Mr. Trump that the federal estate tax should be eliminated. The vision is right out of a movie set: "Let the poor and the middle class pay taxes; waiter, another round of cocktails please.". A proposal to eliminate the estate tax without release of both Mr. Trump's and his advisors' tax returns reeks of conspiracy.
The estate tax is a wonderful target if we change the word to "death taxes". No death taxes is a great rallying cry. It is often claimed to be a tax on assets already taxed. That is rarely, if ever, a nearly complete picture. A best example would be Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago property. He purchased the property for $10 million in 1985. The property's fair market value today may be as much as $300 million. Assuming Mr. Trump never sells the property, eliminating the estate tax on that property alone would save his estate $150 million on a gain that has never been taxed.
Today, a family with $10 million or less in net worth already pays no estate tax. The estate tax is solely and specifically for the very wealthy and is designed to accomplish two goals. First, intellectually, it reduces the "aristocracy" effect where wealth is transferred tax-free generation to generation. Second, like the Mar-a-Lago example above, it insures that all wealthy individuals ultimately pay taxes on their gains to the federal government.
Why does the release of Mr. Trump's tax returns continue to reappear as an issue. It is because of the strong possibility that a man with a net worth of $10 billion dollars could be positioning himself and his closest friends to insure that someone else (virtually everyone else) pays the costs of operating the United States of America. Even a President needs to pay his/her fair share.