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Eye On Olympia

The state of the estate…

Here’s a fact that’s rarely mentioned in the debate over reinstating Washington’s estate tax: very few people would actually have to pay it.

The state Supreme Court in January tossed out the tax, saying it was based on a federal version that’s now suspended. Gov. Gregoire and legislative Democrats, facing the prospect of losing more than $100 million in taxes over the next two years, are rushing to change the law.

But unlike the gas tax — also a big talk topic in the capital — the estate tax would hit very few Washingtonians. The governor’s proposal wouldn’t trigger the tax for farms or for estates worth less than $2 million. According to the state Department of Revenue, the tax would apply to about 250 estates per year in Washington.

Another way of looking at that: 199 out of every 200 people that die in Washington each year wouldn’t leave enough cash and property behind to trigger the tax.

One of those pushing for the estate tax (and a state income tax) is Bill Gates Sr., father of the state’s richest man. His argument for both taxes is the same: that the wealthy have usually benefitted from public institutions, like good schools and colleges.

“It’s only right to ask them to give something back after they die,” Gates said.

The tax would raise $129 million over the next two years.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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