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.