Today, U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced a bill that would amend current estate tax laws to protect historic landmarks and property from punitive taxes so that the public may continue to be enriched from the educational and historic benefits they provide. Currently, when the owner of a privately-held historic estate passes away, the owner's family is often forced to sell the property in order to pay for the tax that is applied to it. This bill would require that estate taxes on the property be based on an ongoing business valuation rather than an asset valuation of the property. The goals of this legislation are to keep as many of these properties as possible in private ownership and allow them to continue to attract historic and educational tourism, which has a positive economic impact on the surrounding community, as well as preserve the historical value of the property.
"Current estate tax laws are unfairly punitive and can have a devastating impact on families. Even more, when this tax burden falls on properties that provide an economic benefit for the larger region, the effects can be felt by the entire community," Senator Burr said. "We are a young nation, and we must preserve our National Historic Landmarks both for the benefit of Americans today as well as for future generations to enjoy and use as educational tools. It is my hope that this bill will result in historic properties being preserved for future public use and benefit rather than being sold to pay the exorbitant taxes on them."
To meet the requirements to qualify under this bill, properties must have been on the register of National Historic Landmarks for at least 25 years, and they must have formerly been a family farm or private residence. Additionally, a commitment must be made to continue operating them for public visitation for at least 25 years after the death of the owner.
In North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate is a good example of the kind of property that would be negatively affected by current estate tax laws. In 2004 alone, over 868,000 people visited the Biltmore Estate, and these visitors contributed $260.5 million to the local economy in Asheville and the surrounding counties. These properties also stimulate the local economy through their employment of local individuals. In 2004, the Biltmore Corporation, for example, employed 1,040 people with a total economic impact stemming from payroll of over $49 million. There are close to 200 other properties nationwide, as well as their communities and their visitors, that could benefit from this legislation.
Original cosponsors of this legislation are Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).