WASHINGTON – The small family of outspoken American billionaires has a renegade in its midst.
Billionaires Ted Turner and Warren Buffet are saying they oppose the repeal of the tax on property when people die, known as the "death tax."
But Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and an entrepreneur worth an estimated $1.5 billion, says the death tax is just plain unfair.
The tax is levied, he says, "for no other reason than the fact that you die. It's confiscation of your wealth and there is no justification for it," Johnson told Fox News.
Death Tax Biased Against Blacks, Johnson Claims
A lifelong Democrat who says he is far from becoming a Bush supporter, Johnson said he had to speak up because the tax unfairly penalizes minority-owned businesses.
"These companies that have started up mainly since the civil rights movement have had to grow their businesses under some very tough circumstances," he said.
"These are people who worked hard in many cases in a system where they face economic discrimination in access to education, access to equal opportunity, access to capital. These are individuals who have recently only become wealthy with the return of the civil rights movement who are now saying 'why should government tax us twice to take our hard-earned money.'"
Repeal Advocates Say It's 'Double Taxation'
In its current form, estates that are worth more than $675,000 are taxed up to 55 percent when the owner of the estate dies.
President Bush, who wants to abolish the tax, has described it as double taxation. According to Bush, you are taxed "once when you make the income and secondly after you die."
Opponents of the repeal, including some of the world's wealthiest men and women, say the death tax on estates is fair and just.
Super investor Buffet recently wrote that the death tax guards against the "aristocracy of wealth, which means you pass down the ability to command resources of the nation based on heredity rather than merit."
And the repeal has strong opposition in some corners of Capitol Hill. "The people who benefit are some of the wealthiest people in this nation who will not have paid any taxes on their appreciated wealth," said Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md.
Johnson said he has a message for his friends in the billionaires club who he says suffer from "noblesse oblige."
"If Ted Turner and the others want to be taxed at 55 percent, I'm sure the government would be happy to set up a special bracket just for them," he said.
Congress begins debating the tax repeal Wednesday. Many Democratic congressmen from farm states have hinted that they may vote for the initiative after finding that farmers in their states would be heavily penalized by the tax because their assets are not cash on hand, but property that would have to be sold to pay the tax.
— Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report