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Ali Mann lives in Portland.
When I was 35 years old, I inherited a small fortune. In the eight years since, I’ve been working through what to do about it — what to give away and where, what to keep — but one thing I know is that fortunes like mine should be taxed much more than they are. Right now, the descendants of wealthy Mainers can inherit $5.8 million tax-free. That’s bonkers. The Legislature should pass LD 1524, which would reduce that exemption to $2 million, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars from each estate back into public goods.
Why am I so eager to pay taxes? It’s simple. I’ve enjoyed a life of freedom thanks to having money: freedom from bad bosses, controlling partners and debt collectors; freedom to have kids without worrying how I’ll support them; freedom to go to the doctor when I need to; and freedom to live in a safe place. But I am not an island, and my well-being is fundamentally tied to those around me. When these “freedoms” — which are actually just the basic building blocks of a dignified life — are limited to the wealthy few, things are not great for any of us.
Taxes are one piece of any serious plan to reverse that. If Maine lawmakers were to pass LD 1524, $13 million a year could flow from families like mine into democratic projects that benefit everyone. We could turn hoarded stocks into humming snow plows, mutual funds into kids’ musical instruments, bonds into bike paths.
To be clear, I recognize that not everything the government does with its money increases freedom, and I’m here to work alongside movements to make the government serve the people. But while we do that work, we also need to ensure that the state has enough resources to perform its role of caring for the common good.
Not only would LD 1524 put valuable resources to use for our collective well-being, it would help control today’s wildfire of economic inequality by slowing one of its main drivers: intergenerational inheritance. My story may sound unusual, but it’s not. Economists expect $30 trillion to flow from baby boomers to their heirs over the next 20 years, constituting the greatest transfer of wealth in history. Already, inheritance accounts for 50 percent to 60 percent of household wealth in the U.S., as opposed to earned income. This is how the wealth gap, and also the especially shameful racial wealth gap, is perpetuated.
Today the disparity between the average wealth of white families and the average wealth of Black families is as bad as it was in 1963. New tax revenue from intergenerational wealth could fund reparations, compensation for the debt of stolen lives and labor of enslaved people, which has compounded over generations. It could also fund reinvestment in poor and working-class people and communities after 40 years of immiseration by the same forces that helped grow my family’s wealth: privatization, neoliberalism and deregulation.
Last, solving this build-up of resources where they’re not needed is also good for democracy, in Maine and across the country. We know that poor people tend to vote less than other groups. And rich people use their money in all sorts of ways to keep the deck stacked in their favor: we lawyer up, get special access to politicians and run for office on our own dime — to name just a few. The outsized political power of wealthy people is so clear that we often don’t even have to lift a finger to exercise it; keeping policy aligned with our interests is understood as the “moderate” and “sensible” path.
For my family, LD 1524 would mean if I died tomorrow, my kids would inherit $2 million tax-free, rather than $5.8 million. For other families, it could mean always having enough healthy food to go around. More than money, that’s the world I want my kids to inherit.