I, RICHARD COHEN, being of sound mind (no snide remarks, please) and good health and having no immediate plans to depart this life, nevertheless have read what the City Council has done to estate taxes in the District of Columbia and instruct my heirs, my relatives and what friends I have in town to bury me in Old Virginny, believing firmly that it is better to be alive in Washington, but cheaper to be dead in Virginia.
I say this, dearly beloved, after glancing at the chart that shows that a person with a house and therefore a modest taxable estate of, say, $150,000, would pay nothing in federal estates taxes, nothing in Virginia estates taxes, $1,350 in Maryland and -- get this -- $12,500 in the District of Columbia. With an estate of $200,000, the same dead person would pay $1,200 in Virginia, $1,800 in Maryland and $17,500 in the District of Columbia.
These are the new rates authorized by the City Council and a very clever tax it is. The persons most affected also happen to be dead and we all know that the dead do not tell tales. If they did, they might wonder what in the world the City Council thinks it is doing. It has passed what amounts to a confiscatory tax, making the cost of death in Washington so outrageously high that middle-income people would be smart to consider ending their days in either Maryland or Virginia where checking out costs a lot less and where it would be nice to repose near better schools.
With this new tax, the City Council hopes to raise something like $4 million a year in additional revenues. This is an admirable goal, because it is true that the District of Columbia is in pretty sore financial shape. But it is also true that it would be in better financial shape if it collected the money owed to it by various purveyors of food stamps [$2.1 million] or if it collected the fees due the city for construction projects [untold millions].
Construction projects have been routinely underestimated so that the license fees would be low. Thus projects costing, say, $40,000 were taxed as if they were $2,000 jobs and this has been going on for such a long time that no one knows for sure how much money the city has lost. Whatever it is, it could sure help solve the city's financial woes.
So, for that matter, would be $700,000 the mayor has requested to hold a statehood convention for what will never be the sovereign state of Columbia. It is true, of course, that the statehood referendum did pass and it is true that statehood for the District of Columbia is probably a wonderful idea. This would give us a state bird, a state flower, two senators and one member of the House, all of whom could, like Walter Fauntroy, hav district offices, thus boosting the local economy by creating a demand for a office space.
There are, of course, really good reasons for statehood, but whatever they might be they seem almost quaint in the era of Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms. What seemed like a good idea in November, seems like nothing but folly now. Times have changed and the District is not about to become a state. It's lucky if it can stay a city. The $700,000 is a perfect waste of money.
It would be silly to total up the $700,000 for the convention and the $2.1 million in missing food stamp receipts and the missing permit fees and conclude that there is enough there to let people die on the cheap. These are one-time windfalls and in at last the food stamp and permit fee cases, the money is gone and cannot be recovered. And it is just as silly to think that any of these steps would solve the city's fiscal woes. Washington is in bad shape and things are probably going to get worse, before they get better.
But the estate tax is an awful way to pick up a buck. It will not really hurt the rich, since the rich have state lawyers who will make sure that their clients take it with them -- or the legal equivalent thereof. The burden will fall on the unsuspecting middle and upper-middle classes -- the very people the District or any city needs if it is to prosper. They are the ones who will be hit with a tax that compared to almost anywhere else is way out of line and they are the ones who are already being taxed to the hilt. Many of them already cannot afford to live in Washington.
Now they can't afford to die in Washington, either.