Your Tax Dollars at Work?
If I give a thousand dollars to my local opera company, and you give the same amount to Meals on Wheels, assuming we’re in the same tax bracket of say, 20% – we both get the same charitable deduction on our taxes. Opera is my hobby; feeding the poor and infirm is yours. Both organizations are non-profit, so we both deprive Uncle Sam of a couple hundred bucks. (Sounds like one of those 21st Century Insurance commercials.) Is this really the way things should work?
This is the issue Bill Maher raises this week on Real Time with Bill Maher – the nonsensical idea that all charitable contributions are created equal. In his trademark irreverent style, Mr. Maher ridicules the current system that shelters millions of dollars of much-needed revenue from the nation’s coffers. (Read the transcript of his New Rules segment here. It sometimes takes a few days after the show’s initial airing for transcripts to appear.)
What exactly should constitute a charitable deduction? Perhaps a dozen years ago, when the government was running a surplus, it wasn’t a pertinent question. Today, however, with huge deficits, a staggering national debt, and no agreement in Congress about how to fix these problems, it’s time to have a look at what sort of activities the rest of us are subsidizing.
Last year, Mitt Romney made around 20 million dollars. If he paid his tithes, that means that 2 million went to the Church of Latter Day Saints. We know Mr. Romney paid an actual tax rate of 14%. This means that he didn’t pay the IRS around $280,000 that he would have otherwise owed. Since the US Treasury Department is not currently running a surplus, but a deficit, this means that someone – or a lot of someones – is going to have to make up that loss. What do we as Americans get in return for that loss of a quarter of a million dollars? I suppose that LDS might spend some of that 2 million dollars on feeding the poor and infirm; but I know for sure that they spend a lot of it sending young men in short-sleeve dress shirts out to neighborhoods all over America and the world in an effort to win converts. And in essence, you and I are subsidizing that activity.
It’s time to end this nonsense. If I give thousands of dollars to my church so they can have a swimming pool in the their new gymnasium, and you give thousands of dollars to the local homeless shelter, our contribution to society is not equal, and the IRS should stop subsidizing both activities equally. We can argue over the many other subsidies in our tax system – and we should – but certainly all of us can agree that food and shelter for the homeless and new swimming pools for upper-middle class Christians are entities that should not enjoy the same margin of entitlement. I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t be allowed to build whatever they want – I’m simply saying that I don’t want to foot part of the bill.
In fact, in a secular society, the government has no business encouraging the building of churches, mosques and synagogues or any other activity that is purely religious in nature; therefore, contributions that go in large part to that activity should not qualify for a tax deduction. However, curing drug addicts, giving job skills to the unemployed, finding new cures for illnesses – these are activities that benefit society as a whole, and should continue to qualify.
Government should neither encourage religious activity nor dissuade its citizens from participating in any way they see fit. All American citizens should financially support causes they wish to see thrive; only those causes that have positive benefits to the general populace – in this life – should be tax exempt.
Do you think your tithes should be tax deductible? Leave a comment and contribute to the conversation.