Feeling anxious about your tax liability as April 15 nears? The Bible has many references to taxes that will sound strangely relevant at this time of year — beginning with the story of David and Goliath.
Many remember a teenage boy offended by insults thrown by a giant foe against his nation and God himself, who volunteers to go into battle with a slingshot. But did you know that a tax incentive was part of his prize?
Visiting the battlefield, David learns: “The king will give great wealth to the man who kills (Goliath) and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel,” (1 Samuel 17:25).
Throughout Scripture, tax discussions mark many passages, as ancient men and women worried about how they would pay.
The federal government wants to give Annie Laurie Gaylor a tax break for leading the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
But Gaylor, an outspoken atheist from Madison, Wisc., wants to stop them — and she’s asking a federal judge for help.
The standoff is the latest twist in a court battle over the parsonage exemption for clergy, a tax break that allows “ministers of the gospel” to claim part of their salary as a tax-free housing allowance.
At issue was a new $100 “annual registration fee” that the city imposed on churches and nonprofits. Most of the fee will go toward building safety and fire inspections, and $25 toward administration costs.
But East St. Louis pastors say Mayor Alvin Parks is playing a game of semantics, using the word “fee” where “tax” is more accurate.
They say they only learned about the new fee when they began receiving letters from the city, warning that the churches would be turned over to a collection agency if they didn’t pay. Nonpayment, the letter said, “may reflect negatively on your credit record, lien on property and other remedies that the State of Illinois allows.”
Those building new churches pay fees for licenses and permits, just like anyone else putting up a new structure. But churches and nonprofits don’t pay taxes.
A special commission created by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability has called for clearer IRS guidance and greater involvement among donors to address “outliers” among congregations and other nonprofits that are not being financially accountable.
Its 91-page report was a response to a request for recommendations from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, after he concluded a three-year investigation into alleged lavish spending by six prominent broadcast ministries in 2011.
Earlier this month, I went to vote at our local middle school in North Durham. It was one those winter-tease days, colder than usual, a glimpse of the coming months in North Carolina. As I walked into the school’s auditorium, I was met by poll monitors with visible breath and bundled-up like Ralphie’s brother from the movie A Christmas Story. For a Midwesterner, cold temperatures in North Carolina is a warm day in the fall, nonetheless, it was clear the monitors as well as voters were uncomfortable and frustrated with the conditions. While searching for my name in the voter list, I overheard one monitor pleading with an administrator to get the heat turned on, fearing the cold atmosphere might shoo voters away.
When I left the facility, I couldn’t help but wonder at the irony of the situation. In a crucial election with many issues at stake, including tax fairness, our local voting facility struggled to provide reasonable and comfortable conditions for the voters. It might be unfair to assume that the lack of heat in the earlier morning hours is related to the school’s budget, and subsequently, tax revenue. Perhaps the custodian simply forgot to turn it on. But, as national, state, and local governments continue to cut back on budgets and programs due to the lingering recession’s effects on revenue, the public sector and often those in lower-income neighborhoods are taking the brunt of tax policies and restructuring.
I finished up my taxes last night. I didn’t think much of the hour I spent on the phone with my dad making sure I filed correctly. Taxes are always complicated, right?
Well, maybe that’s because the folks at Intuit (the publishers of TurboTax) want them to be.
Matt Stoller over at Republic Report pointed out that the ReadyReturn program in California sends tax payers a form showing how much they owe in taxes. Then they just sign it and send it back. It costs less for the state to process and it saves tax payers a lot of time.
During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama promised to implement something similar on the federal level. What happened?
Stoller also notes that since 2008, Intuit has spent a good $9 million on lobbying. And according to one of their investor reports, keeping taxes complicated is a top priority:
Our consumer tax business also faces significant competition from the public sector, where we face the risk of federal and state taxing authorities developing software or other systems to facilitate tax return preparation and electronic filing at no charge to taxpayers. These or similar programs may be introduced or expanded in the future, which may cause us to lose customers and revenue. For example, during tax season 2010, the federal government introduced a prepaid debit card program to facilitate the refund process. Our consumer and professional tax businesses provide this service as well.
If that doesn’t make you mad, take a look at why you are probably paying $500 more a year for your cell phone then you should be.
If you’re finishing your income tax return this week, here’s some food for thought.
The National Priorities Project provides three helpful graphs of the president’s proposed 2013 budget (see budget dashboard). The discretionary budget, the program spending on which Congress votes; the mandatory budget, programs such as Social Security and Medicare that are outside the budget process; and the total budget, combining the first two. The first graph shows, for instance, that 57 percent of the proposed discretionary budget is for the military.
For me, tax time is that once-a-year personal realization that my priorities are not the same as the government’s. And that the political struggle to change the government’s priorities is important.
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When President Barack Obama laid out his deficit plan Monday, he wasn't just trying to sell a policy. When he pressed for tax hikes on the rich and announced, "This is not class warfare," he was trying to exorcise a demon that has bedeviled the Democratic Party for decades and in the process deprive the Republicans of one of their trustiest weapons. The reaction from the right was swift and sure: "Class warfare!"
Wall Street has been devastating Main Street for some time. And when the politicians -- most of them bought by Wall Street -- say nothing, it's called "responsible economics." But when somebody, anybody, complains about people suffering and that the political deck in official Washington has been stacked in favor of Wall Street, the accusation of class warfare quickly emerges. "Just who do these people think they are," they ask. The truth is that the people screaming about class warfare this week aren't really concerned about the warfare. They're just concerned that their class -- or the class that has bought and paid for their political careers -- continues to win the war.
So where is God in all of this? Is God into class warfare? No, of course not. God really does love us all, sinners and saints alike, rich and poor, mansion dwellers and ghetto dwellers. But the God of the Bible has a special concern for the poor and is openly suspicious of the rich. And if that is not clear in the Bible nothing is.
A new study says that might just be how it works, as long as the taxes are progressive. The study was conducted in 54 nations with over 59,000 respondents. The polling tracked the expressed well being of respondents and then checked for correlations in taxation systems. The end result? On average, those who lived in a country with a highly progressive tax system reported a higher level of quality of life, more positive daily experiences, and fewer negative ones. Overall, people are happier the more progressive their tax system is.
It's an academic paper and the authors don't jump to any political conclusions, but they do provide at least one plausible explanation. The study notes that simply increasing government spending does not increase overall happiness. But people are happier in countries with higher levels of progressive taxation because they are more satisfied with basic government services, such as quality of education and health care.
More than 140 prominent Protestant leaders from 12 Latin American countries have signed an "open letter to the Christian churches of the United States," asking American Christians to stand with "the most vulnerable members of US society" who would be affected by proposed budget cuts to the social safety net.
Citing the Circle of Protection as a positive Christian witness, the signers also expressed their dismay. "We view with deep concern recent decisions in the United States that will add to the suffering of the most vulnerable members of US society," the letter read. It was signed by a broad array of Latin American religious communities, including leaders of the Latin American Council of Churches, the United Bible Society of Latin America, evangelical councils and alliances in Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay, the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (CONELA), the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL), Micah Network, Indigenous Association of Peruvian Amazonia, and the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica.
Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children plod across barren cracked earth. Dead cows and human corpses litter the roads, revealing to us evidence of two things: 1) the hottest summer on record in Somalia, which caused the worst drought and famine in 60 years; and 2) twenty years of a truly failed Somali government swallowed up in cycles of violence.
Picture this: Posturing politicians claim to stand up for the rights of Americans, even as they hijack the proverbial steering wheel of America. They hold a proverbial gun to the heads of every American, and say outright that they'd have no problem driving us all off a proverbial cliff if millionaires and billionaires don't remain protected from raised taxes, and if we don't cut more programs that protect working and poor people.
The other day the mail brought an advertisement for something I desperately need (or so the ad suggested). If I ordered it right now, the ad said, I would save a hefty percentage off the usual price. In vain I searched the flyer for the price. None was listed -- not the total, not my monthly payment. I was apparently supposed to place my faith in the kindly marketers and order it anyway.
I guess I should be used to this sort of marketing. After all, that's how our federal government does business. Shall we a. fight a war in Iraq? b. add a war in Afghanistan? c. subsidize medical care for seniors and the poor? d. rescue failed financial institutions? e. subsidize growers of corn and soybeans? or f. fund interstate highways?
The markets are watching, the Republicans are watching, the Democrats are watching, the media are watching, the pollsters and pundits are watching. The public is watching and is disgusted with Washington, D.C.
When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation and even the world is watching.
But God is watching too.
As the time shortens for Congress and President Obama to agree to the contours of legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, I am reminded of the story of King Solomon and his judgment regarding two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child (I Kings 3: 16-28). Solomon ordered that the living child be cut in two and half a dead child be given to both women. The woman who was the true mother insisted that the living child be given to the false mother. She was willing to give up her righteous claim to save the child's life.
photo © 2010 John Hilliard | more info (via: Wylio)
As Christians concerned about poverty, it is time to turn our full attention to the injustices of an "offshore tax system" that enables corporations and the wealthy to dodge taxes and impoverish countries around the world.
As members of Congress in the United States debate deep and painful budget cuts, people of faith should raise our voices against an unfair system that enables profitable U.S. corporations to dodge taxes, depleting an estimated $100 billion from the U.S. Treasury each year. Instead of cutting $1 trillion over the next decade from programs that assist the poor and ensure greater opportunity, we should eliminate these destructive tax gimmicks.
Recent reports show that aggressive tax dodgers such as General Electric, Boeing, and Pfizer, avoid billions in taxes a year. They use accounting gymnastics to pretend they are making profits in offshore subsidiaries incorporated in low- or no-tax countries like the Cayman Islands, thereby reducing their tax obligations in the United States. This system is unfair to domestic businesses that have to compete on an un-level playing field.