The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.
I know, I know, some people just won’t link to a post with too many f-bombs in it, so for you faint of heart, here’s a non-foul-mouthed take down of what has got to be one of the most dishonest Seattle Times editorials ever. Which is saying a lot. Because the Seattle Times has an impressive track record of dishonest editorials.
NEWS that the last family farm in Issaquah is being sold for residential development is a reminder of one of the subtle ills of our tax system: a death tax that forces many farm families and business owners either to liquidate their assets, or go through enormous and costly gyrations to avoid it.
The story of the McBride family, recounted by Seattle Times reporter Erin Heffernan, shows us what we lose as a result of the estate tax — in this case, the last working farm in a fast-growing suburb. Twelve acres of open space farmed by a single family since 1883 will soon become a subdivision. The family had to sell, explained Jim McBride. “There wasn’t any other thing for us to do. All my parents’ wealth was in that land, and we couldn’t afford to pay the taxes that come with inheriting it at the current property value.”
Credulously read this Seattle Times editorial, and you would think the McBride family was forced off the land of “the last working farm” in Issaquah thanks to the death of their patriarch and a stupidly punitive estate tax. Except, everything about this editorial is wrong:
You wouldn’t know any of this from reading the editorial. Because the editors don’t want you to know it. But let’s be clear, the McBrides did not sell the family farm to pay off an estate tax.
First of all, the federal estate tax exempts the first $5.25 million. So if, as Jim McBride is quoted, all his parent’s wealth “was in that land,” and they sold the property for $4.5 million (as the Seattle Times reports), then there would be no federal estate tax to pay. The US Department of Agriculture reports that only 0.6 percent of family farms end up paying any estate tax. And thanks to other provisions benefiting farms, such as a special use valuation and a 15-year payment plan, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the number of family-owned farms forced to liquidate to pay the federal estate tax at “virtually none.”
But what about that pernicious Washington estate tax? Here’s what the Seattle Times has the audacity to tell its readers:
Washington state’s tax is especially punitive. The rate of up to 20 percent is the highest in the country — on top of a federal rate of 40 percent. The typical state exemption for the first $2 million of estate value is hardly enough for a farm or prosperous business, despite reforms by the 2013 Legislature.
Except, Washington state law exempts the value of working farms entirely. All of it. If this had been a working farm for five out of the past eight years, then the McBrides would inherit it Washington-estate-tax-free, whatever its value. No exceptions. Hard to see what is “especially punitive” about that.
Of course, as I’ll explain in a moment, the McBride property is likely not a working farm. Not that it matters, because 97-year-old Ralph McBride’s land holdings comprised only a portion of the $4.5 million deal, far below the $2 million threshold for non-farm assets subject to Washington’s estate tax.
It didn’t take more than a few seconds on Zillow to locate the four properties the extended McBride family sold to developer Wescott Holdings—here, here, here, and here—and according to the King County Assessor’s Office only one property was still owned by Ralph McBride, a 7.55 acre parcel with an assessed taxable value of only $666,000. The other lots were already owned by Ralph’s heirs.
“All my parents’ wealth was in that land,” Jim McBride told the Seattle Times. So a tiny bit of fact-checking would have demonstrated that Ralph McBride’s estate couldn’t possibly be subject to either the state or federal estate tax, regardless of its classification. If anything, the family increased their chance of paying the Washington estate tax by selling his property at a premium before his death (though I’m guessing the deal is structured in a way to avoid this).
So why did the McBride’s sell the farm? Here’s what they told the Issaquah Press:
Age, skyrocketing property taxes and nearby development caused the family to vacate the 660-acre [sic] section of land at the end of June, bringing an end to one of the final remnants of Issaquah’s rural past. … “The farm just kind of petered out as the development began,” [Celia] McBride said, referring to the build out of the Klahanie area in 1985.
Of course, the construction didn’t stop there. Residential neighborhoods sprang up to surround the farm, leading to complaints about noise from the animals and financial concerns.
“The property taxes became outrageous,” she said. “My dad got older, my mom got tired and now the land is going to be a development.”
The property tax on James McBride’s parcel was $7,575.38 for 2014. The McBride family’s combined tax bill was over $26,000 across the four properties. So, yeah, maybe they were just tired of paying it. Though looking at the parcels on Zillow, I’m guessing that the family got offered a premium to sell the four parcels together, rather than the per acre price they could have demanded for Ralph’s 7.5 acres alone. That’s the way these development deals often work.
Regardless, you can’t liquidate the family farm to pay the estate tax if you don’t have a family farm.
Look at the aerial map on Zillow. Two of the lots are heavily wooded, with maybe five or six acres of potential cropland between the four. According to the Agriculture Council of America, the average US farm is 441 acres, so it would be hardly viable to farm a plot this small in the midst of fast appreciating suburban developments. Indeed, King County characterizes all four parcels as “urban residential,” not “rural” or “agricultural,” and assigns “single family” as the properties’ “highest and best use.” The narrative in both the Seattle Times and Issaquah Press describes a 660-acre farm that was gradually divided and sold off over generations. Yes, Ralph McBride continued to raise chickens and tend a garden. But so do lots of people, and it doesn’t make them farmers.
The McBride property may in fact have been the last working farm in Issaquah—that’s hard to know for sure—but it clearly ceased to be a working farm years ago. So all Issaquah is really losing with the development of the McBride properties is some open space and a tiny fragment of its history. If you find this loss upsetting, blame the land use policies.
Still, “farm” or not, the Seattle Times thesis is demonstrably wrong. If it is a working farm, then it is exempt from the estate tax. If it’s not exempt from the estate tax, then it is clearly not a farm. There is simply no way the estate tax cost the McBrides the family farm.
But what else can the estate-tax-hating Blethens do but lie to their readers? “The McBride case ought to show us conventional thinking is wrong — the death tax really isn’t a whack on the wealthy,” the editors blather. Yet according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 99.86 percent of estates owe no federal estate tax at all. So lacking an actual example of a family farm or small business being liquidated to pay off the estate tax, the Seattle Times had to cook one up.
How can anybody ever trust anything this editorial board writes?
Oops. Rick Perry is Indicted on two Felony Counts:
Mental Floss: 30 Weird Sports Injuries.
Puppet Nation: Obama calls Shrub:
The Wingnut Border Meme:
John Oliver (with Sarah Silverman) on payday loans.
Farron Cousins: Ted Nugent, the draft dodging dixieland dumbass, says something.
The Flaccid Neocons Twitch A Bit:
Pap and David Pakman: Which state has the worst voter suppression?.
White House: West Wing Week.
RJ Eskow with Nancy Altman: WTF?!? Social Security Trustees report a growing surplus.
Jimmy Dore speaks with Ron Paul about his son.
ACLU sues Fife over pot ban.
Imps for Impeachment:
Puppet Nation: Ebola media coverage formula.
Young Turks: Reality check—why almost no scientists are Republicans:
FAUX & FIENDS are totally befuddled by Obama’s vacation plans.
Corporations are Peoples, Too:
Young Turks: GOP Governor hilariously battles satanists.
David Pakman: White students are no longer the majority in public schools.
The Quitter Babbles:
Last week’s Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza can be found here.
Reading the Seattle Times editorial that Goldy linked to yesterday, it seems like The Seattle Times can link anything to wanting to repeal the estate tax. I mean if you want more family farms in Issaquah the idea that you’d look to estate tax policy over, say, land use and the related urban sprawl issues is clearly a sign of an unhealthy obsession. So I thought it would be funny to shoehorn random complaints into whatever the top article was on The Seattle Times’ site. Then I thought I shouldn’t link to The Seattle Times if I can help it, so here’s that same joke with the top story on The Spokesman-Review.
A recent article, “Quality, quantity at QB for Eagles” shows the need to end THE ESTATE TAX OF DEATH!
Eastern Washington’s quarterback coach says he’s “having fun,” but how much fun can you truly have when you know that if you make a lot of money and then you die, only a very large portion of your estate will go to your children after taxes? This tax that in a way is a TAX THAT STRANGLES CHILDREN must be holding back his livelihood. Just think of how much happier he, and in fact all of us, would be if we repealed it.
And what of the quarterbacks themselves? They are probably the most affected by the IN NO WAY HYPERBOLIC WHEN I SAY IT IS LITERALLY POSSESSED BY A DEMON TAX. Washington simply won’t be able recruit college athletes to a Division I school unless we repel this GOES ON A MURDER SPREE AND THEN PISSES ON YOUR GRAVE TAX for everyone.
The VENOMOUS SNAKE THAT’S ABOUT TO POUNCE TAX will hurt these quarterbacks but it will also hurt the rest of the team. As the article goes on to note “The Eagles announced team captains Thursday morning, and all are seniors.” Eastern Washington University is forced to field at least 5 senior citizens on their college football team because of the SAPS THE VERY LIFE OUT OF YOUNG PEOPLE AND TURNS THEM TO SENIORS PREMATURELY, EVENTUALLY KILLING THEM TAX. These senior citizens are very brave to play football against teams without a OH NO, IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU RUN AWAY IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE TAX but they shouldn’t have to.
I’m writing to urge you to support Rep. Hank Johnson’s bill to limit and track military surplus* local police departments can receive. We’ve seen in recent days, and sadly plenty before that, that departments with this sort of military equipment treat their citizens as enemies in a war zone instead of people they have pledged to protect and serve. It has to end and Representative Johnson’s bill is a step in the right direction.
While this is important all across the country, as people who represent Seattle citizens, it should be especially important to you. After all, Seattle’s police in recent years have been found by the Department of Justice to have (pdf) a “pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding the use of force that result from structural problems, as well as serious concerns about biased policing.” Those very same structural problems and bias will be worse when the Police Department uses surplus military weapons and equipment instead of standard, civilian policing.
Again, I hope you will do everything in your power to help move this bill. I realize that the legislative branch isn’t exactly moving forward very quickly on controversial bills these days, but it is still important to pursue.
Out of the blue, because this is clearly the most important public policy issue facing 99 percent of Washingtonians, the Seattle Times editorial board has for the zillionth time editorialized in favor of repealing the estate tax. I think my headline pretty much says it all. But there’s always this:
Not sure why the Blethens are still jonesing on eliminating the estate tax now that their paper is virtually worthless, but Jesus Christ, let it go already.
UPDATE: More on this in the morning, maybe, but I just have to point out what an incredibly dishonest editorial this is, implying that the estate tax forced the McBride family to sell the last farm in Issaquah, when in fact if this was a working farm, it would have been exempt from the estate tax entirely. (The sale price of the land was less than the federal estate tax exemption, and all working farmland is exempt from the WA estate tax.) It once again shows incredible disrespect for their readers.
In endorsing incumbent state Senator Andy Hill (R-45), the Seattle Times attempts to smooth over how poorly the Republican fits his otherwise Democratic district by stressing his alleged support for, amongst other things, “abortion rights”:
Hill represents his socially liberal district, supporting abortion rights, gay marriage and the state allowing students without legal residency status access to financial aid. In contrast to his data-driven approach, he shows a lack of curiosity about climate change and the overwhelming scientific consensus of its threats: “You can find scientists on either side.” He believes carbon should be tackled, however, to diminish U.S. dependency on foreign oil.*
And how do the editors know that Hill supports abortion rights? He told them so. And that apparently is good enough for them.
But actions speak louder than words, and in the only major abortion rights bill before the state senate, Hill has repeatedly voted to block the Reproductive Parity Act from going to the floor for a vote. So exactly what does Hill mean when he says he supports abortion rights, if he’s proven to be a reliable vote against it?
We’ve got no idea. Most candidates who truly support reproductive rights—possibly all candidates who support it—seek the endorsement of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. But not Hill, who has refused to fill out questionnaires from either. “If he is ‘pro-choice’ or supportive of ‘abortion rights’ like the Times claims,” asks Erik Houser of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, “then why didn’t he seek our endorsement?”
Um, because he’s not as pro-choice or supportive of abortion rights as the Seattle Times claims? Had Hill bothered to fill out Planned Parenthood’s questionnaire, voters would have a better idea of how nuanced Hill’s position might be. But he didn’t. Houser says they sent the questionnaire to him twice, but Hill ignored it both times.
Again, actions speak louder than words.
So voters will just have to go on Hill’s legislative record and his snubbing of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. He can talk all he wants about supporting abortion rights, but when it comes to the only relevant bill before the senate, Hill has already repeatedly voted no on reproductive rights, whereas his Democratic opponent, Matt Isenhower, is endorsed by both Planned Parenthood and NARAL. And for socially liberal voters in Hill’s socially liberal district, that’s all they really need to know.*
* Though that not believing in climate change thing is pretty off-putting too.
Back when I had my old talk radio show on 710-KIRO, I used to reserve an hour on Saturday nights to interview local comedians, and one of the first questions I asked them was why are there so few funny conservatives? I mean, there’s satirist P.J. O’Rourke, who certainly influenced my development as an essayist back during his glory days at the National Lampoon. And I guess I’ve heard the likes of Bob Dole and Allan Simpson occasionally crack a funny line. But comedians will tell you that their profession overwhelmingly leans toward the left. And it’s hard to argue with the evidence that every conservative attempt at competing with the likes of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert has failed utterly.
In explaining why “there will never be a right wing Robin Williams,” comedian Katie Halper finally offers a satisfying explanation. The missing ingredient from conservative comedy? Empathy.
The left, however, have comedy. And that’s because, though it’s not often brought up, comedy, or good comedy, at least, is based on empathy, something the right, in general, lacks (see: immigration, affirmative action, rights of any disenfranchised groups). And that is why the right will never produce their own version of Robin Williams.
All good comedy requires empathy. Because a good comedian cares enough about people to observe them and their behavior and get into their heads. And in no area of comedy is empathy more needed than in impersonations, which requires a comedian to literally become someone else. A bad comedian impersonates someone in a way that merely makes fun of them. A good comedian can do it in a way that humanizes the person.
Thanks, Katie, for making it all make sense.
It’s great to see the editors at the Olympian calling for more state money to fight and prevent wildfires:
The federal government’s firefighting budget for 2014 is likely to be depleted by the end of August. The state is in even worse shape: It has already spent $91 million fighting wildfires this year, which means the money in the budget year that was supposed to last until next July 1 is already spoken for, according to state Department of Natural Resources officials.
As the West heats up and fire season lengthens, we must redouble our efforts in the area of wildlife [sic] prevention. In the current two-year state budget, Gov. Jay Inslee asked for $20 million to fund fuel reduction projects in the woods. Lawmakers allocated $4 million. When forest health is neglected, dead branches and limbs accumulate and become fuel for the next fire. Trees killed by insect infestation add to the fuel load.
Now if only the editorial boards at the Olympian and other newspapers would advocate for raising the tax revenue necessary to pay for things like fighting and preventing wildfires. Just sayin’.
Gosh, the NRA has been awfully quiet these days:
A call to NRA lobbyist Brian Judy, whom we last wrote about when he told I-594 opponents gun control caused the Holocaust, went unreturned. Likewise, a call to Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive director for lobbying and who is listed as campaign manager for Washingtonians Opposed to I-594, did not return a call seeking comment.
These are people whose actual paid job it is to speak to the press regarding I-594, yet the NRA has maintained radio silence ever since I released the audio of Judy calling Jews “stupid” for supporting gun control. Weird. I mean, a campaign manager who won’t return calls about money is the equivalent of listing your campaign address at a rural mail stop you never intend to check.
The very least I’d expect from the NRA would be for them to stand their ground. But you can’t shoot bad publicity, so I guess they’re defenseless.
- If you want, you can fit plenty of people on gondolas.
- The National Religious Broadcasters make their awards worthless when they give them out to racists.
- As much as Mark Driscoll not being invited to Act Like Men conferences surely is a good thing, the problem is still that his ideas make Act Like Men conferences a thing.
- I think we can all agree that Rick Perry is awesome having no better judge than Rick Perry.
There’s a lot to ridicule in this Freedom Foundation blow-job from the Seattle Times editorial board, but for the sake of brevity, I think I’ll just focus on this single sentence:
These agreements are among the reasons for the disastrous run up in state spending during the bubble years of the 2000s.
Forget for a moment the editor’s ridiculous assertion that our public employee unions are somehow to blame for our state’s budget woes. Instead, I’m just going to rip into the underlying premise. For in fact, there was no run up in state spending during the 2000s, disastrous or otherwise. And unlike those lying liars at the Seattle Times, I’ll show you the data to prove it:
The chart above was copy and pasted directly from the pages of the Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM), and while it does show a modest rise in spending from a low of $187.73 per $1,000 of income in 2000 to a mid-decade high of $205.75 in 2004, it only comes on the heels of a steep eight-year decline from a peak of $224.37 in 1993, followed by an immediate drop to $196.41 by 2006. Viewed through any reasonable time frame, this is nothing more than a blip.
But in fact, the “disastrous run up” the editors are really referring to is the 2007-09 biennial budget, in which Governor Christine Gregoire briefly restored voter-approved teacher COLAs, as well as COLAs for other state workers who hadn’t seen a raise in years. Squint closely and you can see it on the chart. That’s what the Seattle Times has been bitching about all these years.
Indeed, if there’s anything remarkable about the 2000s, it’s that state spending remained relatively flat compared to the more erratic oscillations of the previous two decades. State and local expenditures pretty much track the 50-state average (though slightly below) throughout the decade, fluctuating right along with the economy.
Seriously, take a look at that chart, and show me the “disastrous run up in state spending.” You can’t. Because it’s not there. And it’s not there for a very good reason.
The OFM chart above tracks Washington state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income, and not surprisingly, tells a similar story to state and local expenditures. Because, you know, one pays for the other.
In this case, taxes peaked at just below $125 per $1,000 of personal income in 1989, settled to about $119 over the next few years, before falling into an eight-year decline that bottomed out at $98.91 in 2002. Tax revenues did recover over the next few years to $109.43 in 2006, before falling off the cliff during the great recession. By 2011, the latest year for which OFM provides data, taxes had dropped to under $95 per $1,000 of personal income, the lowest effective average tax rate in the 31 years charted!
And again, throughout the 2000s, Washington’s state and local taxes largely track fluctuations in the 50-state average, if quite a bit below it. In 2011, Washington’s tax “burden” ranked 37th nationwide.
Now I know what some of you right-wing skeptics are thinking: lies, damn lies, and statistics, amirite? Goldy’s talking state and local expenditures and taxes as percentage of personal income in an effort to obscure some inconvenient truth.
Well, no. Taxes and spending as a percentage of personal income is a metric that inherently incorporates the impact of both economic and population growth, as well as inflation, thus presenting the most accurate picture of relative taxes and spending over time. And if you’re worried that OFM’s inclusion of local taxes muddies the picture, considering that the editors were only talking about state spending, well, you’re kinda right. When you break out just state taxes, the decline per $1,000 of income becomes even starker:
There’s your run up in state taxes for you—from a half-century low, up slightly mid-decade, and then off the cliff again. Disastrous! Just not in the way the Seattle Times implies.
And if you’re still not convinced that there hasn’t been some sort of secret hidden run-up in state spending that would prove the editors’ claim, just take a gander at this:
State workers are in fact the state’s largest expense, but do you see any sort of run up in state hiring during the 2000s? No you do not. In fact, the gap between population growth and state FTEs widened slightly throughout the first half of the decade before the state started madly shedding government workers during the Great Recession.
Go to the OFM website. Look at all of the charts. By any reasonable metric the “disastrous run up in state spending” that the Seattle Times has been pouting over for years, simply did not happen! The entire premise upon which the paper has built its relentless attack on public employee unions—that state spending is out of control—is entirely unsupported by the data. Indeed, what these charts actually show is a structural revenue deficit that has left state government unable to grow state services and investments commensurate with our needs.
And while none of these charts speak directly to the editors’ claim that public employee unions are bankrupting the state by extorting extravagant contracts through secret negotiations, given the context, where exactly are all these overpaid state workers? More than 45 percent of state general fund spending goes toward K-12 education, and yet the National Education Association reports that Washington state teachers—already paid well below the national average—actually saw their inflation-adjusted wages fall by 8.5 percent from 2002 through 2012. Are they really arguing that we should cut teacher pay even more?
And if it’s not the dastardly teachers union that is to blame, then who? Is it our state troopers who are overpaid? The men and women risking their lives fighting fires in Eastern Washington? The evil, evil members of perpetual Seattle Times boogeyman SEIU 775 NW, who now earn an extravagant starting wage of $11.06 an hour to wipe the poop off your grandma—a modest pay hike earned not through some secret back room deal, but through binding arbitration?
As I have said for years, there is a legitimate debate to be had over the proper size and scope of government, but the Seattle Times editorial board refuses to engage in it honestly. Instead, they obstruct debate through dog-whistle attacks on public employee unions and the relentless repetition of an out-of-control-state-spending meme that is entirely contradicted by the facts.
It is not state spending that is the problem, but state revenue. You could bust the public employee unions, convert their pensions to 401Ks, slash their health care benefits, and freeze their pay, and you still wouldn’t have enough money to fully fund McCleary. Even worse, in another ten years or so, we’d be right back to where we started. Because that is the nature of a structural revenue deficit. And no amount of lying or union-bashing can ever change that.
- I wonder how much of Seattle’s pretty good but could be improved pedestrian safety is on drivers and how much is on the pedestrians (and other factors). I mean it’s the only big city I’ve lived in where people don’t expect to jay walk. On the other hand, the people who do jay walk are really, really bad at it by and large.
- Torture was torture, and it’s a shame the New York Times wasn’t more on top of that.
- I could use a Universal Converter Box.
Socialists like Kshama Sawant like to argue that market capitalism isn’t working for the rest of us. But I’m beginning to wonder if it is actually working at all:
The American Trucking Associations has estimated that there was a shortage of 30,000 qualified drivers earlier this year, a number on track to rise to 200,000 over the next decade. Trucking companies are turning down business for want of workers.
Yet the idea that there is a huge shortage of truck drivers flies in the face of a jobless rate of more than 6 percent, not to mention Economics 101. The most basic of economic theories would suggest that when supply isn’t enough to meet demand, it’s because the price — in this case, truckers’ wages — is too low. Raise wages, and an ample supply of workers should follow.
But corporate America has become so parsimonious about paying workers outside the executive suite that meaningful wage increases may seem an unacceptable affront. In this environment, it may be easier to say “There is a shortage of skilled workers” than “We aren’t paying our workers enough,” even if, in economic terms, those come down to the same thing.
Adjusted for inflation, truckers are now earning 6 percent less, on average, than they did a decade ago. And yet trucking executives would rather leave business on the table than raise pay to attract more truckers. “It takes a peculiar form of logic to cut pay steadily and then be shocked that fewer people want to do the job,” observes the New York Times’ Neil Irwin.
So much for supply and demand.
And its not just the trucking industry. As the housing market recovers, the construction industry is facing a looming worker shortage, even against the backdrop of persistent six-plus percent unemployment. Here in Washington State, produce is left rotting in the fields for want of enough farmworkers at harvest time. Pay them and they will come, Econ 101 teaches. But in industry after industry, the masters of capital simply refuse.
Whether through collusion, or habit, or sheer ill will, a labor market that effectively suspends the rule of supply and demand isn’t really a market at all. And if there is no functional labor market, then capitalism really isn’t working for the rest of us. Really. In fact, it is fair to question whether market capitalism is working at all. For surely there must be more to the promise of capitalism than the mere accumulation of capital.
Minimum wage opponents like to argue that wage floors distort the natural efficiencies of the market. But you can’t distort something that doesn’t exist.
Please join us tonight for an evening of politics over a pint at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally. While our primary election is over, there are some interesting primary elections going on in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Minnesota tonight.
Can’t make it to Seattle? Check out another Washington state chapter of Drinking Liberally over the next week. The Tri-Cities, Vancouver, WA, and Redmond chapters also meet on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Bellingham chapter meets. The Spokane chapter meets on Thursday. And next Monday, the Aberdeen, Yakima and Olympia chapters meet.
With 205 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, three in Oregon and three in Idaho, chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.