Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Postcard from the Future

The signs of the times are clear and potentially disturbing. In this era of big government, the benefits and protections long afforded churches and other nonprofit ministries are increasingly at risk.

While the financial pressures of state and federal governments are the key drivers of the potential incursions on nonprofits, changing attitudes on Capitol Hill towards charities are also a factor.

New proposals impacting nonprofits by state governments are reported in the media on almost a weekly basis. New fees and losses of sales or property tax exemptions are all possibilities.

Are you familiar with the acronym PILOT with respect to property taxes? PILOT means payments in lieu of taxes and it is based on the “soft” contacts some larger charities are receiving. With states beginning to ask for the voluntary payment of property taxes, it may only be a short step from voluntary to required payments.

At the federal level, there are increasing rumblings about potential changes impacting charities and givers. The notion of capping the charitable deduction for high income givers was floated last year. The proposal was very controversial and it was omitted from the health care bill. However, the Administra­tion included the charitable contribution deduction cap in the budget proposals for 2011, so the concept is not dead. While the impact of a contribution is an imponderable, it certainly would not be an incentive for giving.

On the Hill, there are more frequent references to the cost to the federal Treasury of charitable deductions and tax-exempt status churches and other nonprofits. It is estimated that the charitable deduction costs the Treasury $46 billion annually. Allowing churches and other charities to have tax-exempt status costs the Treasury another $50 billion per year. With these estimates come the not-too-veiled-threats of restoring some of these dollars to the Treasury to fund programs.

In response to these concerns, ECFA is stepping up to the Capitol Hill challenge. We are now devoting more energy to developing key relationships on and around the Hill than at any time in ECFA’s 30-plus years.

In its spring meeting, the ECFA board approved six public policy positions representing fundamental areas of significant interest to our members (see below).

This is an important time for ECFA members to pull together, coalescing around principles of accountability and standing firm behind public policies that are fundamental to our existence. Your organization can do this through your strong support of ECFA, encouraging other Christ-centered ministries to join ECFA, letting your Congressional representatives know about the good work you are doing, and praying for our leaders at the federal and state levels of government.