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In Assembly, state estate tax provision faces uncertain fate

Both houses of the legislature are due to release their budget proposals this week. They'll use those to negotiate a final spending plan with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in an interview with NYS-PBS's New York Now and public radio stations, says Assembly Democrats are not yet on board with part of Cuomo's plan to cut the estate tax.

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says the members of his Democratic conference are likely to endorse one proposal in that plan. It would raise the threshold for imposing the estate tax from $1 million in assets and property to $5.25 million. Silver says the tax break would affect many who are considered middle class.

"It impacts small businesses, and family farms," said Silver, who says some heirs are forced to sell their farms or businesses to just to pay the estate taxes, something he says is not "appropriate."

Silver says he expects the Assembly's budget resolution to include the provision to raise the threshold for the estate tax to $5.25 million.

But he stops short of backing the governor's proposal to lower the maximum taxation rate for estates from 16 percent to 10 percent.

"We're still talking to the conference on that issue," Silver said.

Progressive groups and labor unions have argued against lowering the top rate on the estate tax, saying it's a giveaway to the very wealthy.

Ron Deutsch is with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness: "I don't see how we can possibly justify providing tax cuts to the richest people in our society," said Deutsch , who says family farms or small businesses should be given exemptions instead.

Deutsch says it's an "encouraging sign" that the Assembly might leave the top taxation rate on estates at 16 percent. He says lowering it to 10 percent would represent a significant loss of revenue to the state, as much as three quarters of a billion dollars a year.

"We would lose too much revenue that otherwise could go to help fund our schools or feed hungry children," Deutsch said.

Others argue that New York has to lower the estate tax, because almost every other state has already done so. Betsy Lynam is with Citizens Budget Commission, a non-partisan budget watchdog group. Lynam says New York's relatively high estate taxation rate harms its competiveness, and lowering the rate could encourage some wealthy people to remain in the state.

"If the landscape is flat, and you stick out like a sore thumb, it's not going to help us retain people, that's for sure," Lynam said.

And she says many are avoiding the state tax anyway, by employing "savvy" legal strategies to get around it.

The governor's estate tax cuts are likely to be supported in the Senate, where Republicans who control the chamber in a power sharing agreement, have been long time backers of the measure.

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