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Apr/12

29

Fool or Knave?

Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien is at it again:

Via the Guardian:

One of Britain’s most prominent religious figures, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has accused David Cameron of immoral behaviour and of favouring rich City financiers over those struggling on lower incomes.

O’Brien, Scotland’s most senior Roman Catholic authority, said: “The poor have suffered tremendously from the financial disasters of recent years and nothing, really, has been done by the very rich people to help them.

Nothing? Really?

Amongst his suggestions:

O’Brien called for Cameron to introduce a Robin Hood or financial transaction tax on City dealings. “My message to David Cameron, as the head of our government, is to seriously think again about this Robin Hood tax, the tax to help the poor by taking a little bit from the rich,” he told the BBC.

Last year Cameron and the chancellor, George Osborne, led Europe-wide efforts to stop France and Germany introducing just such a tax, arguing that it would be uniquely damaging to UK interests.

In a BBC1 Scotland interview, O’Brien said it was immoral “just to ignore” those suffering as a result of the credit crunch.

“When I say poor, I don’t mean [only] the abject poverty we see sometimes in our streets. I mean people who would have considered themselves reasonably well-off.

“People who have saved for their pensions and now realise their pension funds are no more…”

Of course, amongst those hit by such a tax would be, uh, savers.

As O’Brien probably knows.

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Apr/12

22

Hatch, Back?

As Orrin Hatch is forced to face a primary challenge, here’s a little reminder from 2009 about the (very) long-serving senator’s attitude towards taxpayers’ money:

WASHINGTON — Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

It would have a minor effect on the overall cost of the bill — Christian Science is a small church, and the prayer treatments can cost as little as $20 a day. But it has nevertheless stirred an intense controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state, and the possibility that other churches might seek reimbursements for so-called spiritual healing.

As I wrote back at the time, in this context I could not care less about the separation of church and state, but I do care a great deal about the separation of the taxpayer from his money. Senator Hatch clearly did not.

In the event, the proposed change did not get through, but that Hatch even tried this stunt is a reminder that, when it comes to protecting the taxpayer, Hatch is not a man who can be trusted.

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Mar/12

10

On the Economics of the Pill

Interesting report here in the New York Times:

The recent controversy over contraception and health insurance has focused on who should pay for the pill. But there is a wealth of economic evidence about the value of the pill – to taxpayers, as my colleague Motoko Rich writes, as well as to women in general.

Indeed, as the economist Betsey Stevenson has noted, a number of studies have shown that by allowing women to delay marriage and childbearing, the pill has also helped them invest in their skills and education, join the work force in greater numbers, move into higher-status and better-paying professions and make more money over all.

One of the most influential and frequently cited studies of the impact the pill has had on women’s lives comes from Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz. The two Harvard economists argue that the pill gave women “far greater certainty regarding the pregnancy consequences of sex.” That “lowered the costs of engaging in long-term career investments,” freeing women to finish high school or go to college, for instance, rather than settling down.

The pill also helped make the marriage market “thicker,” they write. By decoupling sex from marriage, young people were able to put off getting married and spend more time shopping around for a prospective partner.

Those changes have had enormous impacts on the economy, studies show: increasing the number of women in the labor force, raising the number of hours that women work and giving women access to traditionally male and highly lucrative professions in fields like law and medicine.

A study by Martha J. Bailey, Brad Hershbein and Amalia R. Miller helps assign a dollar value to those tectonic shifts. For instance, they show that young women who won access to the pill in the 1960s ended up earning an 8 percent premium on their hourly wages by age 50.

Such trends have helped narrow the earnings gap between men and women. Indeed, the paper suggests that the pill accounted for 30 percent – 30 percent! – of the convergence of men’s and women’s earnings from 1990 to 2000.

Interestingly, the study also found that the pill had the greatest economic benefits for women with average IQ scores. “Almost all of the wage gains accrued to women in the middle of the IQ distribution,” the paper said. For this group, it said, women with early access to the pill “enjoyed greater hourly wages throughout their twenties and the premium grew to a statistically significant 20 percent at ages 30 to 49.” Why? The pill helped “middle ability” women in “planning for and opting into paid work,” the researchers theorized.

The above article focuses on the economic value of the pill to women generally (and, I suppose, through increased earning power, to the taxpayer), but here’s the specific Brookings Institution paper (“Policy Solutions for Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy” by Adam Thomas, Georgetown University) on the direct value to the taxpayer of certain forms of government-subsidized pregnancy prevention programs.

Here are some extracts:

The research also shows that each dollar spent on these policies would produce taxpayer savings of between two and six dollars…Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and the parents and children involved in these pregnancies tend to be disadvantaged in a number of ways. For example, Figure 1 shows that unintended pregnancies are disproportionately concentrated among women who are unmarried, teenaged, and poor. Some studies have used sophisticated statistical techniques in an attempt to determine the extent to which pregnancy intentions have a causal effect on maternal and child outcomes. These studies generally suggest that unintended pregnancy and childbearing depress levels of educational attainment and labor force participation among mothers and lead to higher crime rates and poorer academic, economic, and health outcomes among children.

In addition, unintended pregnancy has important implications for public sector balance sheets. For instance, Emily Monea and I estimate that taxpayer spending on Medicaid-subsidized medical care related to unintended pregnancy totals more than $12 billion annually. This figure is substantially more than the federal government spends on the Head Start and Early Head Start programs each year. Unintended pregnancies are also much more likely than intended pregnancies to be terminated. Unintended pregnancies account for more than 90 percent of all abortions—and a substantial majority of Americans of all political stripes support the goal of reducing abortions.

Just one paper, of course, and the Brookings Institution comes with its own institutional bias, but intuitively it makes quite a bit of sense, and, as a taxpayer, leaves me less than thrilled by the direction of some of the rhetoric coming from some sections of the GOP. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

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Dec/11

12

Well?

We’ve heard a lot recently from the Vatican on the “social justice” front, most of it the usual leftish sanctimony garnished with the distaste for the free market that has long been an important strand of Roman Catholic thought.

Well, now comes an excellent opportunity for the church to back up its words. The Daily Telegraph has the details:

The Roman Catholic Church in Italy is under growing pressure to start paying taxes on its massive property portfolio, in a move that could raise up to 800 million euros (£680 million) a year and help bail the country out of its economic crisis.

Campaigners, most prominently parties on the centre left, say it is deeply unfair that Church-owned properties with a commercial function — for instance convents and monasteries that charge paying guests similar rates to four-star hotels — are exempt from property tax. As the new technocrat government of Mario Monti seeks to slash the nation’s 1.9 trillion euro debt, attention is turning to the estimated 65,000 buildings owned by the Church.

They include around 50,000 cathedrals, churches and chapels — which would retain their tax-free status — but 11,000 schools, universities and libraries as well as nearly 5,000 hospitals, clinics and other commercial properties would face the tax.
The Monti administration has announced that Italians are to be taxed on their primary residences, reinstating a levy that had been abolished by Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned from his third term in office last month.

It is one of a package of tax increases, labour reforms and pension reductions which will hit Italians hard in the pocket over the next few years. With millions of people facing a bleak era of austerity, politicians are now calling for the enormously rich Church to play its part in shouldering the burden. The potential windfall is enormous. According to an estate agency, Gruppo RE, a fifth of publicly owned properties in Italy are directly or indirectly controlled by the Church.

But calls for Church taxes may encounter resistance from the Monti government, which is heavily stacked with academics, bankers and lawyers with strong Catholic credentials. Under a law adopted in 1982 and backed up by an amendment in 2006, Church-owned properties are immune from taxation, even those that have a commercial element.

This will be a good test of both Monti and the Catholic Church. Serious or not?

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Aug/11

24

The Favored Pew

Via the Wall Street Journal:

As Congress scrutinizes every nook and cranny of the budget for possible revenue, a surprising court decision is allowing clergy members to buy or live in multiple homes tax-free. The U.S. Tax Court ruled that Phil Driscoll, an ordained minister and Grammy Award-winning trumpeter who went to prison for tax evasion, didn’t owe federal income taxes on $408,638 provided to him by his ministry to buy a second home on a lake near Cleveland, Tenn.

Under a provision of the tax code known as the parsonage allowance, first passed in 1921, an ordained clergy member may live tax-free in a home owned by his or her religious organization or receive a tax-free annual payment to buy or rent a home if the congregation approves. The Tax Court ruling, made final in March, extends the parsonage allowance to an unlimited number of homes, which may be owned either by the religious organization or the clergy member.

In a 7-6 ruling, a panel of Tax Court judges sided with Mr. Driscoll’s argument that the word “home” is equivalent to “homes,” just as “child” is interpreted to mean “children” elsewhere in the tax code. The Internal Revenue Service declined to comment on the decision. In May, the agency appealed it to a federal appeals court in Atlanta. Experts say the parsonage allowance was originally included as a way to minimize taxes on clergy members, whose compensation was often meager. It still is widely used for that purpose, church officials said, although the IRS doesn’t track usage of the benefit.

“For most of them the housing allowance is modest because their compensation is modest,” says Daniel Gary, an attorney with the United Methodist Church in Nashville.

Similarly, D. August Boto, general counsel of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, says for leaders of the organization’s 46,000 churches “the housing allowance is critically important for making ends meet—it is not a luxury.”

However, some experts are concerned that the new ruling opens the door for the allowance to be applied to multiple homes used by leaders of wealthier ministries…

You don’t say.

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Mar/11

19

Giving More Power To The IRS

This story comes from Mother Jones, and it comes with plenty of ‘coulds’, so some caution is called for. Nevertheless it doesn’t make pretty reading. Here’s a key extract:

Under a GOP-backed bill expected to sail through the House of Representatives, the Internal Revenue Service would be forced to police how Americans have paid for their abortions. To ensure that taxpayers complied with the law, IRS agents would have to investigate whether certain terminated pregnancies were the result of rape or incest. And one tax expert says that the measure could even lead to questions on tax forms: Have you had an abortion? Did you keep your receipt?

In testimony to a House taxation subcommittee on Wednesday, Thomas Barthold, the chief of staff of the nonpartisan Joint Tax Committee, confirmed that one consequence of the Republicans’ “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” would be to turn IRS agents into abortion cops—that is, during an audit, they’d have to determine, from evidence provided by the taxpayer, whether any tax benefit had been inappropriately used to pay for an abortion

The proposed law, also known as H.R. 3, extends the reach of the Hyde Amendment—which bans federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake—into many parts of the federal tax code. In some cases, the law would forbid using tax benefits—like credits or deductions—to pay for abortions or health insurance that covers abortion. If an American who used such a benefit were to be audited, Barthold said, the burden of proof would lie with the taxpayer to provide documentation, for example, that her abortion fell under the rape/incest/life-of-the-mother exception, or that the health insurance she had purchased did not cover abortions.

“Were this to become law, people could end up in an audit, the subject of which could be abortion, rape, and incest,” says Christopher Bergin, the head of Tax Analysts, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit tax policy group. “If you pass the law like this, the IRS would be required to enforce it.”

Ugh.

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Mar/11

7

God and Taxes

It’s always worth remembering that there is a religious left too. Amongst its prominenti are the ‘social justice’ Christians of Jim Wallis’ Sojourners group, a public nuisance for years. Contemplating the nation’s budgetary woes, the Sojourners are now asking “What Would Jesus Cut?”

In a splendid piece for the Boston Globe Jeff Jacoby responds. Here’s a key extract:

Wallis fumed in an interview that Congress should be cutting defense spending instead of health or nutrition programs. “House Republicans want to beat our ploughshares into more swords,’’ he said. “These priorities that they’re offering are not just wrong or unfair, they’re unbiblical.’’ Unbiblical! Does Wallis really believe that no one advocating budget cuts he opposes can have serious ethical grounds for doing so? It must be wonderful to be so certain that what Wallis wants is precisely what God wants. Not all of us are as confident that our religious faith translates as readily into a detailed partisan agenda.

A more fundamental problem with the “What Would Jesus Cut?’’ campaign is its planted axiom that Jesus would want Congress to do anything at all. Yes, we are emphatically commanded by Scripture to help the poor, to comfort the afflicted, and to love the stranger. But those obligations are personal, not political. It requires a considerable leap of both faith and logic to read the Bible as mandating elaborate government assistance programs, to be funded by a vast apparatus of compulsory taxation. I admit that I am no New Testament scholar, but I cannot recall Jesus ever saying that the way to enter Heaven is to dole out money extracted from your neighbors’ pockets.

On the other hand, He did hang out with tax collectors….

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Dec/08

7

Miscellany, December 7

  • Ann Althouse on Bill O’Reilly and the Washington atheist sign:
    Atheist Christmas sign

    Atheist Christmas sign

    Another December, another battle in the “War on Christmas.” I think the sensible people don’t want to fight about religion, but there are always extremists — pro-religion and anti-religion — who seek glory in the fighting. Tolerance and peace is the better path. Please take it.

    Earlier discussion here and, generally, here.

  • Current laws in most states protect the Roman Catholic Church’s right to turn away abortion-seekers even as it accepts public funds to provide other ob/gyn services at its vast network of hospitals. Now the church hierarchy vows to behave like an Ayn Rand hero (hey, I meant that as a compliment) and close down (not sell) the hospitals, no matter how grave the consequences for patients, if the pending, Obama-endorsed Freedom of Choice Act winds up knocking out such laws. As one much interested in the law of religious accommodation, I’ll say that I’m strongly inclined to defend the current laws that excuse the Catholic hospitals from having to perform abortions. At the same time, I’m equally strongly opposed to newer Religious-Right-backed proposals for the law to create opt-out rights within organizations, thus enabling devout employees of secular clinics and hospitals to announce to their startled supervisors that they will no longer perform their job duties when that means facilitating abortions (or sterilization, contraception, in vitro fertilization for unmarried women, or whatever). It seems to me a relevant factor that nearly everywhere in the country the publicly funded patient can choose from among an ample variety of secular health care options, while likewise the committed opponent of contraception has a great many possible job options other than working behind a Walgreen’s pharmacy counter. But I suspect that many commenters will favor policies that are more absolutist in one direction or the other.
  • Aside to some of the usual suspects: I know you dearly love to feel that churches are being persecuted and driven into the catacombs over their social-conservative political activism, but when even big-league separationist Barry Lynn says the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches are in no danger of losing their tax exemption over their promotion of Prop 8, maybe it’s time to just admit that they’re in no danger of losing it. Kthxbai.

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