Angle pledge to highlight family's estate tax plight


Travis Brady's grandfather started the family's Las Vegas janitorial supply company in 1947, around the time the Flamingo opened and put the suddenly glammed-up gaming city on the map.

Now he's worried that Brady Industries, with 725 workers, could get stuck one day with "tens of millions of dollars" in bills if a federal estate tax, which critics call a "death tax," kicks back in next year.

"That becomes a liability, which takes capital that could be used for continuing expansion," Brady said, noting the company is growing and opened a new plant at the end of 2009. "Like most or all family businesses, anytime you're trying to transition to the next generation, it can be a financial burden."

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle plans to highlight the Brady family's problem as she signs a pledge to repeal the estate tax today in Reno and on Thursday in Las Vegas.

Taking on her first big issue of the general election campaign, Angle is trying to shift the focus of her race against Sen. Harry Reid onto taxes and the economy. She has been losing ground to the Democratic incumbent, who has portrayed the Tea Party conservative as too extreme. Angle also launched a positive TV ad campaign Tuesday, directly urging voters to help her "change the direction of our country."

A fiscal conservative, Angle already has pledged not to raise taxes. She argues the estate tax requires people to spend money on estate planning that could be used to invest. Her campaign says it can cost jobs if families are forced to liquidate businesses "just to pay the tax man" when owners die.

Angle and Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, are at stark odds on the estate tax issue and on whether to fully extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at year's end.

"Harry Reid has been an opponent of Nevada family businesses and workers by destructively pursuing higher estate tax rates and lower estate tax exemptions," Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy said in a statement. "And he has resolutely opposed endeavors to trim down and eliminate the job killing estate tax during the entire occupancy of his long political career."

On her website, Angle argues for making the Bush tax cuts permanent while cutting spending and paying back the national debt -- a formula Republicans insist will create a better economic environment.

"Steps like these would go a long way toward giving the business community the confidence they need to start creating jobs and hiring again," she says.

Reid says the estate tax hits less than 1 percent of families -- only the richest -- and protects most small businesses and family farms.

And, like President Barack Obama, Reid argues that any continuation of 2001-03 tax cuts should target middle- class families who need the money most. He originally voted against the Bush tax cuts.

"Senator Reid supports extending tax cuts to those families with incomes under $250,000, which covers more than 97 percent of Nevadans," said Reid spokesman Jon Summers in a statement.

As for allowing the estate tax to continue, Summers said Reid favors returning to rules in place in 2009. The tax rate then was 45 percent on estate assets above $3.5 million.

"Angle's plan would actually add an additional $500 billion to the deficit," Summers said. "That's a high price to pay to give Paris Hilton a tax cut."

The Angle and Reid differences on taxes highlight a sharp partisan debate playing out on Capitol Hill that got fresh attention when New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died last week.

Under the 2001 Bush tax cuts, the estate tax was "repealed" for 2010 only -- which means Steinbrenner's family won't have to pay on his estimated net worth of $1.15 billion, according to Forbes.

The yearlong hiatus of the estate tax could cost the U.S. Treasury $14.8 billion in 2010.

According to the Bush-era plan, the estate tax is supposed to automatically return in 2011 at a rate of 55 percent on assets above $1 million if Congress takes no action. Opponents contend it's unfair because it taxes income twice, once when it's first earned and again after the estate is settled.

The Senate Finance Committee has been struggling over how to reinstate the estate tax. Democrats on the panel have proposed putting in place an escalating tax on estates valued at more than $3.5 million, rising to 55 percent, with an extra 10 percent levied on the estates of billionaires.

Brady, whose retired father is former Las Vegas Assemblyman Bill Brady, is now president of the company that his grandfather, Feurman, launched a decade after he came to Las Vegas to manage a Safeway grocery story. The 40-year-old's brother, Eric, is chief financial officer. The prominent Republican family supports Angle in the race against Reid.

Travis Brady didn't want to reveal the company's privately held assets or annual revenues, but he said the estate tax could cost his family "tens of millions of dollars" if his father died.

"Certainly we would not want to have to sell the company," Brady said. "But that's certainly an option the family could potentially face. But we love the business and wouldn't want it to go that way."

In 2000, Brady Industries opened a separate linen service, providing laundering to the hotel market in the city. The company opened a new laundry plant in December 2009 despite an overall economic downturn in Southern Nevada, which is suffering record high unemployment.

"That plant employs 75 people. We continue to grow, but it takes tremendous capital," said Brady, who added that his grandfather also expanded the business by taking risks. "Looking back, starting that company was a great leap of faith. Las Vegas was not the city then that it is now."

Angle, in taking up a public push for tax cuts this week, is adopting the national GOP narrative and moving to try and get her campaign message in line after losing ground to Reid since the June 8 primary. Polls show Reid ahead after pounding Angle for her conservative views and verbal gaffes.

David Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said sticking to fiscal issues is the best strategy for Angle as Nevada suffers record-making economic troubles.

"Tax cuts, in general, people like that, even if they may not get them," Damore said. "It's a winner for her. I think it gets the conversation off some of the things she's been talking about lately."

The Reid campaign is sure to keep focusing on Angle's comment that she doesn't think her job as a U.S. senator is to create jobs, but to create a business-friendly environment instead. The senator's ubiquitous TV and radio ads hit Angle on those remarks again and again.

Angle's first positive ad campaign of the general election starts with a 30-second spot that shows her speaking with seniors, giving viewers a chance to see her for more than a quick sound-bite.

"We have a fearful society right now," Angle said in the ad. "What Americans are afraid of is that what we're going to be passing down to our children is not liberty and freedom, but debt and deficits."

The former Reno assemblywoman said voters who are upset can do something about it.

"That's why you and I have an opportunity, right now, to change the direction of our country," Angle said before invoking the words of former President Ronald Reagan. "Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem. We the people are the solution."

Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

 

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