NORFOLK — State Rep. Shawn Dooley is proposing a cut in the state estate tax as a way of keeping older residents and their assets in Massachusetts.
He would accomplish the cut by doubling the exemption from the tax so it only impacts estates worth $2.6 million or more.
Dooley, R-Norfolk, was involved in estate planning in a previous career. He said he knows very wealthy people move their legal residency to places such as Florida so that their heirs don’t have to pay the Massachusetts estate tax when that person eventually dies.
Massachusetts is one of only 12 states that has an estate tax.
He said the state takes between 8 and 14 percent of the value of an estate worth more than $1 million.
A bill he is filing would exempt the first $2.6 million of an estate and change the rates to 10 to 13 percent, with larger estates getting hit with the higher rates.
The exemption would be tied to the federal law. The U.S. taxes estates over $5.2 million.
Dooley would set the Massachusetts exemption at 50 percent of the federal level and use the same formula to increase the level over time with inflation indexes.
He estimates Massachusetts would lose between $10 million and $15 million a year in estate taxes if the changes are adopted.
However, he said the very wealthy are already avoiding the tax. Only less wealthy people, such as small business owners, are paying it.
Keeping more elderly people in Massachusetts rather than have them move their residency to Florida would also increase some revenue for the state because it would continue receiving income tax from those people rather than lose it to another state, he said.
State Rep. Jay Kaufman, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Revenue, said Dooley’s idea is worth exploring.
“Representative Dooley’s bill has merit as it encourages us to examine and consider some interesting potential changes we should consider to our tax code,” Kaufman said in a statement.
“The bill raises some very important questions, and should generate a thoughtful analysis and healthy debate on its merits. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. I look forward to the analysis and debate that will follow.”
Dooley said he realizes that debate may include accusations that he is favoring the rich, but he said the charge is not true.
Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said he has not heard much of an outcry on Beacon Hill for a lower estate tax.
He said the state already has budget problems. State officials must determine what their priorities are and decide if a lower estate tax is more important than funding education and local aid, he said.
Dooley said he would actually like to do away with the estate tax altogether as other states have, but he knows that would never pass the Legislature.
He said he also has a graduated set of tax rates to keep the tax “progressive” to please other lawmakers.
JIM HAND covers politics for The Sun Chronicle. He can be reached at 508-236-0399, at email@example.com and on Twitter @TSCPolitics.