Don’t chop tax breaks for charitable contributions

 

Should government continue to give people tax breaks for donating to charities? Elder Dallin H. Oaks, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, thinks so.

In response to more than a dozen proposals in Congress to reduce or eliminate charitable deductions, Elder Oaks testified yesterday before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee that “[t]he charitable deduction is vital to the private sector that is unique to America.” After making strong arguments to support this statement, Elder Oaks concluded with the following:

In behalf of countless churches and other charities, and in behalf of the tens of millions who are benefited by their services and by the services of the millions of volunteers who are motivated by them, I say, don’t impair the charitable deduction!

You can read Elder Oaks’ full testimony here and more about these events here.

Sutherland agrees with Elder Oaks’ statement. In 2005, the Utah Legislature considered whether to adopt a flat tax while also eliminating charitable deductions. At that time, Sutherland President Paul Mero authored an article for The Wall Street Journal to express the Institute’s views on the proposal and the LDS Church’s role in addressing it. Here is an excerpt from that piece:

Here in Utah, good public policy is more than efficient policy. Good public policy will actually reflect the values and priorities of the people it serves. And a flat tax with no deductions, exemptions, or credits simply does not reflect the values and priorities of Utahns.

While it might be easy to blame opposition to a pure flat tax on the voracious needs of special interests, the Mormon Church rightly understands that the tax code should be used to incentivize individual and societal behaviors that help us to be our better selves and, at the same time, serve to unburden our reliance on government programs. A pro-active, not “neutral,” tax policy does this.

As the spokesman for the Mormon Church told the Tax Reform Task Force in testimony, the Church views the issue of taxes as more than purely transactional. Instead, the tax code can be used to influence behavior and promote a definition of the common good that goes beyond simple pro-growth, efficient revenue generation.

Let’s not forget that the root of the problem for Utah taxpayers is not high taxes but misguided and uncontrolled spending. The Mormon Church, in its own way, seems to understand that with tax reform, the money in our pockets should not be our sole obsession. We also need to consider what we do with the money in our pockets. And what we do with that money, spent privately or through tax policy, should always be a true reflection of our values and priorities.

We urge lawmakers – whether on the state or federal level – to retain tax deductions for charitable contributions.

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