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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 22:58 GMT
Rich Americans back inheritance tax
Bill Gates
Bill Gates: Said to sympathise with the cause
A group of the United States' most wealthy citizens have urged Congress to reject a plan by the new Bush administration to phase out taxes on estates and gifts by 2009.

A petition, to appear in the New York Times on Sunday, is being organised by William Gates Sr, father of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Warren E. Buffett
Warren Buffett: Petition did not go far enough
Around 120 rich Americans, including billionaire investors George Soros and Warren Buffett, support the petition.

It argues that repealing the tax would damage government essential government programmes or hurt families on low incomes.

Billions of dollars of government revenue lost would be made up for either by increasing taxes for those less able to pay or by cutting programmes such as social security or environmental protection, it says.

It adds that repeal of the law would harm charities, as many rich people make charitable donations to reduce the sizes of their estates.

'Aristocracy of wealth'

Mr Buffett, who himself did not sign the petition because he thought it did not go far enough, said that repealing the estate tax would be a "terrible mistake".

Signatories of the petition
William Gates Sr.
Investor George Soros
Ben Cohen, founder of Ben & Jerry's
Philanthropist David Rockefeller Jr.
Steven Rockefeller, chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation
Philanthropist Agnes Gund

It was like "choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics".

Removing the tax would lead to the creation of an "aristocracy of wealth" instead of a meritocracy, he added.

Estate taxes are assessed on the net worth of an individual at death.

Sympathisers
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates
Investor Warren E. Buffett
They are levied on any sum over the first $675,000, at rates ranging from 37% to 55%.

Only 2% of Americans who die annually pay the tax.

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See also:

12 Feb 01 | Business
President Bush's tax cure
08 Feb 01 | Americas
Bush seeks sweeping tax cuts
08 Feb 01 | Business
Can Bush avert recession?
05 Feb 01 | Americas
Bush: Tax cuts for all
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