Smart Talk Oct. 27 

No billionaires left behind
Hurricane devastation slowed but did not end the drive to repeal the estate tax, reports Responsible Wealth, a group of wealthy people who support retention of the estate tax. The organization notes that Southern senators — mostly Republican but including Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln — still are arguing for repeal though some like Lincoln think it a little crass to push for the tax break until the hurricane relief issue has died down.

Lincoln is waging the fight for a tiny number of very wealthy Arkansans.

Responsible Wealth says that IRS figures show that estate tax returns were filed in 2003 in Arkansas for only 179 estates worth more than $1 million. (The organization, by the way, says it has 14 Arkansas supporters who say they are subject to the estate tax.)

Things are only going to get worse for the estate tax — or better, depending on how wealthy you are. In 2009, when $3.5 million of an individual’s estate will be exempt from taxation ($7 million in the case of a spouse inheriting from a deceased spouse), the organization says that only an estimated 22 Arkansas estates will be subject to the estate tax. Those 22 will pay taxes on estates averaging $22 million. Senator Lincoln says estate tax repeal is vital to save “family farms” in Arkansas. Some farm, senator. Some farm.

Gay information source
A new website, www.littlerockpride.com, is up and running as a resource for gay and lesbian people in Arkansas. Barb Kampell, who came out as a lesbian seven years ago, developed the website as a clearinghouse for information in a “nonpartisan format.”

The site will address social issues, however, and include a calendar of events. It includes blogs from several contributors, local news and other stories on gay and lesbian issues.

“Coming out is a difficult process, and it helps to know there are others like you, who can offer support and advice,” Kampbell said in a news release. “I also feel strongly that gay Arkansans do not have to leave our wonderful state because they feel isolated. Arkansas is an amazing place to live, and gay Arkansans make many contributions which enhance this quality of life.”

That lawsuit crisis
Arkansas trial lawyers are happily passing around a statistical analysis from the Justice Department on tort cases over the last 20 years. You’ve heard of tort reform haven’t you? Lawmakers everywhere, including in Arkansas, have been doing everything they can to make it harder to sue for damages because of the “explosion” of tort cases and “runaway” jury verdicts.

The Justice Department (that’s the place run by George W. Bush) says:

• The number of tort cases resolved in federal district courts fell 79 percent between 1985 and 2003.

• In 1985, 3,600 tort trials went to a judge or jury. In 2003, the number was less than 800.

• Between 1990 and 2003, plaintiffs won just less than half of all tort cases, but received monetary damages in only 28 percent of malpractice cases. The estimated median payment fell by 59 percent.

• Civil trials dropped by 47 percent in state courts between 1992 and 2001 and personal injury cases dropped 31.8 percent during the period.

• Punitive damages are rewarded infrequently.

Mediation is helping to settle cases before they reach trial, the lawyers say in explaining the decline. Plus, it’s expensive to take a case to court. In other words, it’s not easy for an ordinary person to get inside the courthouse. But it’s still too easy to suit corporate interests, who are still lobbying for more legal protection against lawsuits. The report is available on the Justice Department’s website, in a section for the Office of Justice Programs.


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