His opponents have railed on Neil Abercrombie as just another “tax and spend” liberal.

But on the estate tax he might be confused with his usual Republican critics. While stopping short of endorsing its repeal, as many Republicans have proposed, Abercrombie has supported increasing the amount exempt from the tax and reducing the tax for assets up to $25 million.

He believe the tax punishes Hawaii small businesses and generations of home-owners burdened with costly real-estate valuations.

Abercrombie’s position on the estate tax — aka the “inheritance tax” or “death tax” — is clear: He thinks it’s flat-out unfair.

He confirmed that position to Civil Beat this month, although he stopped short of calling for the tax’s complete repeal.

“The problem with these things is that they tend to get presented in absolute terms,” he said.

Such was the case in 2006, when Abercrombie voted along with the then-Republican majority to reduce the tax. (The compromise version of the repeal bill fell short of the necessary votes in the Senate later that year.)

Among other things, HR5638 — the Permanent Estate Tax Relief Act of 2006 — called for increasing to $5 million ($10 million for couples) the amount exempt from the estate tax (effective 2010,) and reducing the tax for assets up to $25 million.

“I continue to have serious concerns about Republican tax policies overall and their impact on the deficit,” Abercrombie said at the time. “However, they’re right on this issue.”

Abercrombie had his reasons, garnered from his meetings with small-business owners.

“The bottom line is the survival of family-owned businesses,” he said, according to ProjectVoteSmart, which cited a U.S. House press release that year. “It’s particularly important for Hawaii, where owners bought their business property three generations ago, and rising real estate prices have left their businesses with high valuations but little in the way of cash assets to pay a large estate tax levy. The super-wealthy avoid the tax by using lawyers, accountants and financial planners to exploit the loopholes. But if you own a coffee shop at a prime location, a car dealership, or a landscaping business, your heirs can get hit with an enormous tax bill.

“Those firms provide a living for many island families and generate jobs for working men and women. The estate tax casts a huge shadow over the folks who operate and depend on these businesses. Who wants to see their business liquidated and the employees wind up in the unemployment line? Reducing the estate tax will give family-owned businesses a chance to survive, grow, and remain in the hands of families who built them.”

Asked about where he stands on the estate tax four years later, Abercrombie told Civil Beat he still thinks it’s unfair for many.

“My principal orientation there is to try to keep family-owned businesses together,” he said. “And when they’re not family-owned anymore, then they are just a regular corporate enterprise that should be subject to the taxes that anyone else is expected to pay.”

Abercrombie said it seemed a contradiction for a third-generation family that owned a business or land having to pay an estate tax that could force them to go out of business, unlike “ultra-rich family businesses that were not family businesses any longer but gigantic corporations.”

Learn more about Abercrombie’s Shades of Red, on topics such as the military, same-sex marriage and also about how he stood alone on a controversial vote on aid for the Palestinian government.

Learn about Aiona’s Shades of Blue, on topics such as the Akaka Bill, the homeless, clean energy and sustainability and healthy lifestyles.

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