Bil Browning

Will Alaskan Town Become First to Tax Churches?

Filed By Bil Browning | November 17, 2014 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Alaska, Nome, paying taxes, paying your fair share, religious tax exemptions, taxing churches

church.jpgKudos to Nome, Alaska. The small town is the first in the nation to consider taxing churches to plug up holes in the town budget and allow the city to continue offering threatened social services.

While churches have long enjoyed and abused their right to avoid paying taxes, as times have changed, the religious institutions have abandoned their status as a "public good" and community gathering place; now they're chockful of politics and profit. From megachurches and millionaire pastors to the far right preachers defying the government's already lax standards by openly using their pulpit to influence elections, religious groups have steadily morphed from "givers" to "takers."

American churches use the broad language of tax law to avoid paying their fair share of government services. It's not just income and property tax exemptions enjoyed by individual churches, synagogues and mosques that allow the groups to make big bucks while taxpayers suffer. The list of tax-free organizations also includes religious schools, hospitals, charities, and non-profits that engage in deliberate political activities; they also get exemptions from paying sales tax and any money donated to these orgs can be written off as tax-free charitable giving by the donor.

The Washington Post estimated the annual cost of the religious tax exemptions nationwide at $83.5 billion dollars. Getting rid of the tax deduction for giving to these groups would raise almost $12.5 billion alone.

The Nome ordinance wouldn't take away all of the religious tax exemptions. It would only require the groups to pay the city's sales tax like everyone else. The town could expect to raise about $300,000 annually and has pledged that, like the income tax, any money left over after paying for social services would be distributed back to the churches.

Here's hoping it passes. There's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't pay taxes just like the rest of us.

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