Magazine article Insight on the News

Martin Sounds Death Knell for `Death Tax'

Magazine article Insight on the News

Martin Sounds Death Knell for `Death Tax'

Article excerpt

The president of the 60 Plus Association tells Insight that `dying should not be a taxable event.' He and his organization have made it their mission to eliminate the inheritance tax.

Sixty-two-year-old Jim Martin heads the Arlington, Va.-based 60 Plus Association, the conservative-moderate answer to the liberal American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP. The organization's chief goal is eliminating the inheritance or estate tax, which Martin calls the "death tax."

Martin came to Washington in 1962 as a political correspondent for a group of newspapers in Florida and South Carolina, and later worked on Capitol Hill in other public-affairs positions.

The 60 Plus Association publishes a newsletter, Senior Voice, and Congressional Scorecard, which rates members of Congress on their "senior-friendly" voting records. Each Congress, 60 Plus bestows its Guardian of Seniors' Rights award on senators and congressmen who have scored highest on its "Congressional Scorecard" ratings.

It also presents the Benjamin Franklin Award to legislators who do the most work toward getting rid of the death tax. "Dying should not be a taxable event," Martin tells Insight.

Insight: Why is the 60 Plus Association necessary? There's already the American Association for Retired Persons, or AARP.

James L. Martin: We need a counter-balance to the AARP! [Laughs]. The leadership of AARP is far to the left -- I had not realized how far -- but the regular membership isn't. Until about six years ago, when 60 Plus came along, AARP had a free ride. We have about half a million members now [compared to AARP's claim to 40 million members]. I like to say we have about 1,000 members per congressional district. My home state of Florida and California lead in the number of members in 60 Plus, but that's not surprising. I like to joke that AARP really stands for the American Association Against Retired Persons.

Insight: The mottos on 60 Plus literature say "Tax Fairness to Seniors," "Kill the Death Tax" and "Repeal Unfair Inheritance Taxes." These are popular issues.

JLM: Yes! Years ago, we ran an advertisement in the Washington Times against the [federal] estate tax. I did a truncated version of the advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, since we didn't have much money. That's when we realized our No. 1 issue should be getting rid of the death tax, the inheritance tax. It was people calling about that little reference in the advertisement that convinced us!

Insight: Isn't that an issue politicians shy away from because getting rid of the estate tax is viewed as benefiting the rich at the expense of the poor and working people?

JLM: You can educate them that it's not a tax cut for the rich -- that it affects mom-and-pop businesses. For instance, I tell them that my seniors are not wealthy that I personally know of but are morally offended by a tax that's a tax on assets that already have been taxed.

Critics say to me that the 55 percent rate doesn't kick in except in estates over $3 million, and don't you think people with that much money should pay their fair share? They don't mention that seniors already have paid every tax that's been conceived by Congress up and down the line.

Then the Republicans always say they're afraid that it's going to be misconstrued as a tax cut for the rich. But I always say, the rich don't pay it anyway. The Bill Gateses don't pay it. The only people who benefit are the lawyers and the accountants and the insurance brokers, because the rich are spending inordinate amounts of money to protect those assets. Regular people are likely to say, "Estate tax, what do you mean? I don't have an estate."

There are now 207 sponsors for [California Republican Rep.] Chris Cox's bill [to kill the estate tax] in the House of Representatives and 30 sponsors for the bill in the Senate.

There are enough Democrats coming around. …

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