BY: Rebekah Staples @rstapes
“Contributions to Charity X are tax deductible.” This phrase is often part of a fundraising strategy to bolster donations to charity or non-profit organizations. It’s a good angle, you see, because it plays on something we all want – to pay fewer taxes to the government.
This scenario is the intended result of a tax policy structured to incentivize donations to charities and non-profits. It relies on and rewards individual choice – that is, individuals are free to choose which organizations to financially support and, in return, are given a tax break for their contributions.
Interestingly, a contrary practice is authorized nearly every year at the state Capitol. This practice is one that originates in the oft-overlooked “Local and Private” committees through the rubber-stamping of bills that redirect taxpayer dollars to government-preferred charities or non-profits.
For as long as I have been following legislative politics, legislators have picked winners and losers in the charity and non-profit realm. For example, the 2011 legislative session included passage of House Bill 1452, which authorized Tunica County Supervisors to contract with and/or contribute up to $450,000 of taxpayer dollars to Mid-State Opportunity, Inc., for costs associated with “youth programs, an energy assistance program for the elderly, disabled and low income and other services to the needy citizens of the county.”
I wonder if legislators who voted on this bill requested information on what the organization does, how it operates, or its record of success?
In 2009, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 3283, which authorized the Kemper County Supervisors to donate up to $5,000 to the local Boys and Girls Club. In this same session, legislators approved a bill (Senate Bill 3212) that allowed Pike County Supervisors to make “annual donations for charitable uses” of taxpayer dollars to the Salvation Army and Southwest Mississippi Christian Outreach during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 calendar years.
Aren’t residents of Kemper and Pike Counties able to contribute directly to these groups without a government pass-through?
To be fair, I don’t know a single legislator who really “champions” this type of legislation. In fact, many times legislators simply file bills at the behest of their local supervisors or city councilmen. But during a period when revenues at all levels – city, county, and state – are deflated, does it make financial sense for the government to redirect taxpayer dollars away from its core services?
More important, however, is recognizing the precedent this sets for the government’s role in financial management. Government exists to protect individual rights and freedoms. Bills that repurpose taxpayer dollars to government-preferred charities and non-profits undermine our economic freedom: the freedom to choose just how we want to spend our money.
The argument isn’t whether Mid-State Opportunity, Inc., Boys and Girls Clubs, the Salvation Army, or Southwest Mississippi Christian Outreach deserve financial support. I know many of these groups provide meaningful services in our communities. But individuals, not governments, should be the sole decision-makers when it comes to donating money to such groups. Individual contributions are already encouraged by existing tax policies.
Usurping taxpayer dollars for “charitable” purposes is bad public policy. If it’s going to continue, I propose some tax-filing flexibility. In addition to direct contributions to charities, a portion of the taxes we pay to the government should also become tax deductible since they are often used as “charitable contributions” by virtue of legislative action.
Something tells me that lawmakers would balk at this proposal which necessarily reduces individual taxes and, as a result, state revenues. So much for charity.
About Rebekah: A native of Jones County, Rebekah Staples has worked in the communications and public policy fields for nearly a decade. She can be reached at email@example.com.