Nonprofit leaders: Don’t roll back tax incentives for charitable giving

Gallagher and Dallin Oaks, a top official in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, signaled that it was especially wrong-headed to consider changing incentives for charitable giving during a sluggish economy.

“The charitable deduction should remain unimpaired, not just for religions and their unique role but for the benefit of the entire private sector of our nation,” Oaks said in his opening statement.

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The Senate Finance hearing came just weeks after the Obama administration once again proposed capping the itemized deductions that higher-earning taxpayers can take.

As it stands, only the roughly one-third of taxpayers who itemize their deductions receive the incentive for charitable giving, generally obtaining a tax break equal to their tax rate. But under President Obama’s proposal, deductions would be capped at 28 percent for taxpayers who pay the current top rate of 35 percent.

Officials and analysts who favor changing the incentive said those kinds of moves are necessary, given the steep budget deficits facing the federal government. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the current charitable deduction will cost around $230 billion between 2010 and 2014.

“In the case of tax law toward charitable contributions, there is a lot we can do to make our subsidy system more effective from both a fiscal and charitable standpoint,” Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute said in his opening statement for Tuesday’s hearing.

In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, there could be ways to both boost charitable giving and save the Treasury some money.

One way, CBO’s Frank Sammartino said Tuesday, referencing a May report, would be to replace the current deduction with a 25 percent tax credit that all taxpayers can receive, as long as they meet a certain donation threshold.

But Finance Committee ranking member Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMcConnell signals Republican-only path on tax reform Lighthizer unanimously approved by Senate panel Disconnect: Trump, GOP not on same page MORE (R-Utah) was skeptical of those claims, and indicated that he would strongly oppose any attempts to alter the current deduction.

“The tax-reform options being discussed today are options that target charitable giving, concocted by those who, hungry for more taxpayer dollars to finance reckless government spending, are now casting their sights on the already-depleted resources of charities and churches,” Hatch said.

“It makes perfect sense to provide the greatest tax incentive for giving to the donors with the greatest capacity to give.”

Meanwhile, committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusChanging of the guard at DC’s top lobby firm GOP hasn’t reached out to centrist Dem senators Five reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through MORE (D-Mont.) was more diplomatic in his discussion of the issue.

“It is the obligation of this committee to ensure that nonprofits uphold their commitment, and it is our duty to make sure the tax code encourages charitable donations in the most efficient way possible,” Baucus said.