Tag Archives: tax incentives

The More We Learn, The Less We Like

The GOP tax bill has cleared another hurdle, and appears to have momentum–there are even reports suggesting it will be voted on today. Those of us hoping that at least two or three Senate Republicans might put the interests of the country above those of their party are likely to discover that those principled Republicans don’t exist.

Every time I discover something new about this abominable bill, it gets worse. So far, I’ve come across no redeeming features of this obscene and economically destructive proposal.

The latest “discovery” comes courtesy of Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Republicans love to tell us that if the government would just stop providing a social safety net, churches and charities would step in and everything would get better. But a study of the new Republican tax “reform” bill says it will reduce charitable giving by up to $24 billion a year.
It’s hard to tell whether this nasty little surprise was intentional–I rather doubt it, since the entire bill displays incredible ignorance of how the economy really works. (If anyone supporting this giveaway to the rich really believes it will create either jobs or prosperity, that would be the ultimate triumph of hope over experience.)
As any economist or tax lawyer will affirm, many–perhaps most– of the provisions in the IRS Code work a lot like the balloons used by the guys making them into animals at fairs and festivals–squeeze here, and it gets bigger there. As the referenced study found,

Even though the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) preserves the charitable income tax deduction, other income tax provisions of the bill could reduce charitable giving by between $12 billion and $20 billion in 2018, based on new estimates from the Tax Policy Center. A second provision—repeal of the estate tax—could reduce giving by another $4 billion in the longer run.

By nearly doubling the standard deduction and either repealing or scaling back most itemized deductions, the House version of the TCJA would substantially reduce the number of taxpayers who elect to itemize. TPC estimates that fewer than 13 million taxpayers would itemize deductions in 2018 under the House version of the TCJA, down from more than 46 million under current law.

It would be lovely if everyone making a charitable contribution was motivated purely by concern for whatever cause their dollars are supporting. (If you do believe that, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you…) Even generous givers, however, are conscious of the tax incentives involved. When the effective cost of a donation is less, it’s easy to give more. This tax bill reduces that incentive by increasing the after-tax cost of giving by about 8 percent.

This troubling result is less obvious from the face of the bill than several of the other consequences that have been highlighted: the 1.4 trillion added to the deficit, severe automatic cuts to Medicare, making graduate school unaffordable by taxing tuition supports as income (or, for that matter, making all college educations less affordable by removing the deduction for interest on student debt.) It goes on and on.
We are living with an American government that reserves its favors for the “haves” while doing steadily less for the “least among us.” The people getting the short end of the stick are going to depend to an even greater extent upon the charitable organizations that are already stretched well beyond their capacities– organizations that are demonstrably unable to fill the considerable gap between what poor families need to survive and what they earn.
It’s going to get very ugly.
On the other hand, you will still be able to deduct the expenses for your corporate jet….