From The Life of Shumlin, by Parson Weems:
“When Peter,” said she, “was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! Of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way.
One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it.
The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance.
“Peter,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? ”
This was a tough question; and Peter staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. A huge gust of wind sprang up out of nowhere and blew down your precious cherry tree.”
One of Governor Shumlin’s least endearing traits is his inability to avoid an expedient falsehood, even if it’s transparently obvious to eveyrone in the room. Well, once again he couldn’t help himself yesterday when touting a change in the estate tax that will give a bit of relief to rich folks and business owners.
More on that in a moment, but first, Yet Another Cherry Tree Moment:
Shumlin called that old [estate tax] system fundamentally flawed and said that, based on what accountants had told him, it was the single biggest reason older Vermonters moved to Florida, one of 30 states with no estate tax.
Vermont’s estate tax is the single biggest reason older Vermonters move to Florida?????????
Say, Governor. Ever hear of a little thing called… weather?
I mean, jeez, if you’re gonna lie to us, at least put a little effort into it.
Okay, enough dead-horse kicking. Let’s briefly consider the new law itself.
There is an argument to be made for this bill. It does give small business owners a better shot at keeping the business in family hands, which is generally a good thing. However, it also lowers the tax burden on the wealthy — and Vermont’s tax system already favors the wealthy.
(Plus, there’s absolutely no proof that taxation forces anyone to flee a jurisdiction. A state’s tax structure is a very minor consideration, much lower than things like climate, public services, quality of life, and proximity to friends and family. But that’s another lie for another day.)
As we have discussed ad infinitum in this space, the rich do pay more income tax than others (although not nearly as much as the official 8.95 percent top rate would lead you to believe), but when you add in all state and local taxes, the rich pay the least. Sales taxes hit the poor hardest, property taxes hammer the middle class, and that outweighs our progressive income tax.
So. If you believe the current estate tax is unfair, well, you really ought to make broader tax reform the very next item on your agenda. Which Shumlin won’t because (a) he’s a lame duck and (b) he has said before that he believes Vermont’s tax system is just fine the way it is.
Except for this one grossly unfair bit of the estate tax, that is.
Sorry. Point is, our tax system is sorely in need of an overhaul, whether Shumlin can see it or not. The failure to address tax reform, on the heels of the Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission’s report (published at the very beginning of his governorship), which outlined a pretty damn good reform plan, is one of the great disappointments of the Shumlin years.
So go ahead and tinker with the estate tax. Give rich people another break. But don’t feed us bullshit and tell us it’s steak.