Tag Archives: religious institutions

Not The Onion. Really.

A recent headline in the Washington Post read: “Taxing Churches to Help Corporations.” It really was the Post, and not the Onion.  It wasn’t Borowitz. (This assurance does prompt me to give credit to Donald Trump for providing consistent, excellent assistance to political satirists…)

E.J. Dionne explains:

You would be forgiven for thinking this is a headline from the Onion or the fantasy of some left-wing website. But it’s exactly what happenedin the big corporate tax cut the GOP passed last year.

Now — under pressure from churches, synagogues and other nonprofits — embarrassed leaders of a party that casts itself as religious liberty’s last line of defense are trying to fix a provision that is a monument to both their carelessness and their hypocrisy.

The authors of the measure apparently didn’t even understand what they were doing — or that’s their alibi to faith groups now. It’s not much of a defense. And the fact that Republicans increased the tax burden on nonprofits, including those tied to religion, so they could shower money on corporations and the wealthy shows where their priorities lie.

I do disagree with E.J. on one point. He dismisses legislators’ excuse that “they didn’t know what they were doing.” I don’t. No one who saw the recent hearing where a Congressional committee was “grilling” the CEO of Google could come away believing that our elected lawmakers have the slightest idea what they’re doing.

Evidently, the GOP’s slap-dash effort to relieve the rich from the rigors of taxation had a negative effect on houses of worship.

At stake is a provision in the $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that directednot-for-profits of all kinds — houses of worship but also, for example, universities, museums and orchestras — to pay a 21 percent tax on certain fringe benefits for their employees, such as parking and meals.

The new levy on the “armies of compassion” former president George W. Bush liked to extol would raise an estimated $1.7 billion over a decade.

That’s a vanishingly small amount in the scheme of the GOP’s deficit-inflating tax extravaganza, but it’s revealing. To lower the price tag of their confection for the wealthy, Republicans effectively hiked taxes on all sorts of other people and entities — most controversially, by sharply curtailing deductibility of state and local taxes. This was another two-faced move from a party that regularly assails “unfunded federal mandates” and lauds the importance of state and local problem-solving.

This story provides critics with an abundance of riches: we might focus on the mounting evidence that the Grand Old Party is filled with doofuses who haven’t the faintest idea how to structure public policy. We might focus on the “bought and paid for” identity of today’s GOP, and the party’s willingness to throw its religious base under the bus if pandering to its corporate base requires that. Or we might agree with E.J.’s accusation that this was a deliberate, nasty, entirely partisan assault–yet another example of Republicans putting the interests of their party over the good of the nation.

GOP leaders have told representatives of religious organizations that they had no intention of taxing them. They were focused on what they saw as liberal bastions in the third sector: universities, foundations and the like.

But this excuse only makes the story worse. It shows how slipshod the architects of this tax bill were, and it demonstrates their deeply partisan motives. After all, limiting the state and local deduction raises taxes far more on middle-class and well-off taxpayers in Democratic states than on their counterparts in Republican states.

Calling these assholes slipshod is way too kind.

That said, I think a stronger case could be made for taxing churches than universities and non-profits….