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Oracle's Larry Ellison got a $3 million tax break and you didn't

The billionaire convinced an appeals board he was paying too much on his 23-acre estate. Turns out there's a limited market for replicas of 16th-century Japanese emperors' country homes.

Want a tax break?

Then be like Larry Ellison. All you have to do is spend around $200 million on a replica of a 16th-century Japanese summer palace. Add extreme landscaping, such as a few hundred mature maple and cherry trees and a man-made waterfall carved into rock to look as though it had been put there "by the hand of God." Make sure this thing is so insanely over the top that no one besides you could possibly imagine living in it. And put this 23-acre estate in tony Woodside, in the hills above Silicon Valley.

Larry Ellison beat the tax man

Do all this and you too could be eligible for a $3 million tax break from the San Mateo (Calif.) County assessment appeals board. The lead story in Thursday's San Francisco Chronicle is what can be charitably described as a galling piece that proves the rich really are different from the rest of us, particularly when the rich person is billionaire adventurer, tech pioneer, and shameless rogue, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Ellison, it seems, was displeased with the tax bill for his Shogun estate. Why, you ask? Well, turns out it suffers from "significant functional obsolescence," according to the Chronicle. Shocking as it may seem, there's a finite market for really, really high-end luxury homes and a limited appeal for 16th-century Japanese architecture. In other words, there is no one on this planet other than Ellison crazy enough to buy this place.

And think you're getting creamed by the housing market collapse? You should be in Ellison's shoes. Ellison spent $200 million on his palatial abode, but his lawyer says it's only worth $64.7 million, per the Chronicle. That's rough, considering the average price of luxury homes in San Mateo County only dropped 6.3 percent last year.

Ellison didn't do anything illegal, of course. He went to the appeals board with a complaint and they agreed with him. Fair enough. But the Chronicle also helpfully points out where that $3 million would have gone, including $1.4 million for public schools.

So while the rest of were wondering whether we'd qualify for a $600 ($1,200 for couples) IRS refund under President Bush's economic stimulus package, Ellison had bigger fish to fry. But here's another way to look at it: $3 million to Larry Ellison is equivalent to $300 for the average homeowner, according to the Chronicle.

So if you think about it, Ellison's getting a raw deal. While the rest of us may get $600, he's only getting half that! OK, so it takes some mental gymnastics and a good deal of hallucinogens to reach that conclusion. But what else are you going to do? Getting angry about this is like feigning shock that a billionaire prefers to spend on credit rather than cash out his company stock.

Oh wait, Ellison used to do that, too? OK, so what was that about the rich being different than the rest of us?