One Man’s Quest for Estate Tax Repeal

May 15, 2006

An excellent article appears in this morning’s Washington Post by Jeff Birnbaum on a Maryland businessman lobbying for repeal of the estate tax.

Whenever the chief executive of a big shareholder-owned auto retailer sees Jack Fitzgerald, he goes out of his way to say hello. But Fitzgerald, owner of Bethesda-based Fitzgerald Auto Malls, knows that the guy is not just being nice. He wants to sweet-talk Fitzgerald into selling his thriving business, which Fitzgerald does not want to do.

But he may have no choice. Fitzgerald’s 40-year-old chain, which operates dealerships in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida, is too large for him to pass easily to his heirs without their being crushed by the estate tax. As a result, Fitzgerald, 70, has become a part-time lobbyist, meeting with members of Congress and peddling his own version of estate-tax repeal.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald, though amiable and determined, is learning the hard way what generations of executives before him have come to know: The nation’s capital is a difficult place for any one man to make things happen. Even though Fitzgerald is a native Washingtonian — having grown up not far from the Capitol — and is well-liked by many lawmakers, changing laws is a frustrating exercise. He isn’t likely to succeed this year, lawmakers and analysts say.

Still, Fitzgerald, like the good salesman he is, remains optimistic. “I think there’s an interest in making some sort of deal,” he said. “But it has taken a lot of my time — too much time.” (Full Story)

Recall that Birnbaum is most famous in tax circles for being the co-author (along with Alan Murray) of the classic Showdown at Gucci Gulch, which tells of the struggle between lobbyists and lawmakers in passing the Tax Reform Act of 1986. It is highly recommended as it is one of the greatest books ever written on the meatgrinding that goes into writing tax law.

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