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Associated Press, Published October 06 2010

ND House hopeful Berg: Estate tax should stay dead

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — U.S. House candidate Rick Berg said Tuesday he supports a permanent repeal of the federal estate tax, which was eliminated this year but may return in 2011, because he believes it would help keep family farms and businesses intact.

Berg, a Republican, promised to support legislation to permanently repeal the tax, speaking at a news conference at a rural Cass County farm. He was accompanied by former U.S. Sen. Mark Andrews, the last North Dakota Republican to serve in Congress. Andrews lost his bid for re-election in 1986.

In an interview, Berg called the tax "one of the biggest barriers to continuing family farms in North Dakota."

"Knowing that a business can be passed to the next generation without the risk of having to sell one-third of the business to pay an estate tax, that's going to keep that business going," Berg said. "It will preserve those jobs, and, I'm sure, continue to create more jobs."

Tax legislation approved by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in June 2001 gradually phased out the estate tax as part of a larger package of tax cuts, many of which will expire at year's end. The estate tax was completely repealed this year, but unless new legislation is passed, it will return next year with the first $1 million of a person's estate exempted from the tax and a top tax rate of 55 percent.

Berg is running against U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy for North Dakota's lone House seat. Pomeroy, a Democrat, is seeking his 10th House term.

Pomeroy sponsored legislation, which the House approved last December, to increase the estate tax exemption to $3.5 million per person, the same amount in effect in 2009. Larger estates would be subject to a top tax rate of 45 percent. Pomeroy has opposed repealing the tax completely.

The $3.5 million exemption would decrease federal estate tax collections by $253 billion over 10 years, he said. Repealing the tax entirely would mean $666 billion less in revenue during the same period, he said.

"At a time when you've got so many needs in our country and a steeply out-of-balance budget, this marches us into even worse budget deficits to take care of the estate tax exposure of just the wealthiest few families in the country," Pomeroy said.

More than 98 percent of the nation's estates did not owe federal tax last year with the $3.5 million exemption, he said.

Berg called the tax inherently wrong, saying it represented double taxation of a person's earnings and a penalty for success.

"The great thing about America is we have an environment where people can build a better mousetrap, and grow," Berg said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.