First you earn a dollar.

Then it gets taxed.

It gets taxed by the federal government, the state government, city government and Social Security.

It has pennies shaved off for a property tax or a school tax. Then a water tax, a gas tax, a sewage tax or a tax that helps some rich guy build a stadium.

Your dollar is peeled, sliced, diced, chopped, cubed, minced and shredded by taxes, until whatever shards remain finally fall into your pocket.

And you put them away. You save them. You tell your children: "One day, those pieces will be yours."

And then you die.

And the government wants to tax them again.

At up to 55 percent!

Welcome to the estate tax or the "death tax" the cruelest tax of all. There is a move to abolish this tax. The House has voted to phase it out.

Yet most experts believe the idea will die in the Senate. And President Clinton has vowed a veto, claiming the government would miss the money too much. The thinking by those who want to keep the death tax is the same as it has been for decades: The rich can afford it.

Yes. Well. To paraphrase Tina Tuner: What's rich got to do with it?

Something isn't right simply because it benefits poor people. And something isn't wrong simply because it benefits the rich.

But something is definitely wrong if it keeps parents from passing on the fruit of their life's work to their children.

And this, by the way, is what the death tax does and not just to the Bill Gateses and Donald Trumps of the world.

When you die, the value of your estate is what gets taxed. That means everything in it, from house to car to cheap costume jewelry. And if you own a business, or a farm, or an apartment building, the value of that whole thing counts toward the tax.

The current law allows a $675,000 exemption before the taxes kick in more for farms and at first blush that sounds like a ton of money. But when you consider the values of homes these days, or the values of stocks and automobiles let alone what a business is worth you see how quickly that exemption is eaten up.

And next thing you know, you owe 55 percent.

Now imagine a small business, which may be worth a lot on paper, but doesn't kick out a lot of cash each year. Suddenly, the owner dies, and his grieving children have to pay 55 percent tax on the nonexempt value. Where do they come up with that money?


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