Millionaires Back Buffett Tax on Wealthy If They’re Exempt

Millionaires support Warren Buffett’s view that the wealthiest should pay more in taxes, as long as it’s other rich Americans, according to a survey released today.

About 71 percent of millionaires surveyed said they agree with Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., that the very wealthy ought to pay more taxes and give more to charity. That included 49 percent who said that they’re “not in the same league” as Buffett and that the higher taxes shouldn’t apply to them personally, according to the survey from PNC Wealth Management, a unit of Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

“When we compare ourselves to somebody else, we always think that they should do more,” said R. Bruce Bickel, senior vice president of PNC Wealth Management, whose parent company is the sixth-largest U.S. bank by deposits. The 555 respondents, each with investable assets of $1 million or more excluding real estate, may be saying, “‘I don’t consider myself the ultra-wealthy, when I compare myself to a Buffett,’” Bickel said.

Buffett, 81, the world’s third-richest person according to Forbes magazine, urged Congress in August to raise taxes on households earning more than $1 million. About 236,883 households earned $1 million or more in 2009, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Tax Rates

Income-tax rates for top earners will rise to 39.6 percent from 35 percent in 2013 and rates on capital gains and dividends also may rise, unless Congress acts.

The survey didn’t ask what level of income or assets should trigger higher taxes, according to Alan Aldinger, a PNC spokesman. About 41 percent of those surveyed said they would change their investment strategy in response to an increase in taxes, and 24 percent said they would reduce commitments to philanthropy.

Almost 70 percent said they plan to increase charitable giving or give the same amount, and about 22 percent have cut back or plan to donate less. About 27 percent of respondents, who were surveyed in September and October, said they gave more than $25,000 to charity in 2010, up from 9 percent who reported donations of that size three years ago.

Giving Back

“People are beginning to say, ‘In difficult times, those of us who have been blessed with financial wealth need to give back,’” Bickel said.

Taxpayers generally can’t take deductions for charitable contributions of more than 50 percent of their adjusted gross income, according to the IRS.

About 71 percent of respondents said they’re much better off than their parents were at the same age, compared with about 10 percent who said they expect their children will be much better off by the time they’re the same age.

“Some may be saying the American dream is not something that’s achievable for the next generation,” Bickel said.

PNC hired Artemis Strategy Group, a public-relations research and consulting group, and HNW Inc., a marketing firm, to conduct the online survey.