Even Jesus had a Tax Man

Taxes are due April 15. Courtesy Shutterstock

Taxes are due April 15. Courtesy Shutterstock

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.

Better Together

LIKE THE 2013 Moral Monday protests—which over the course of last spring and summer saw more than 900 people arrested for peaceful civil disobedience, February’s Moral March was notable for the diversity of races, ages, causes, and faiths represented. This is the fruit of long-term coalition-building among progressive groups and individual activists sparked by Rev. William Barber in late 2006 that resulted in the formation of the Historic Thousands on Jones St. People’s Assembly Coalition. This coalition, under the banner of the “Forward Together Moral Movement,” worked out of these established relationships, including significant church involvement, to organize the 13 Raleigh Moral Mondays and more than 25 local Moral Mondays statewide last year. The model seems to be spreading, with groups in Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina staging similar protests.

This movement has its work cut out for it—the voter suppression package that the North Carolina legislature passed last year is considered to be one of the harshest in the country. (The U.S. Justice Department has sued the state over the new law.) Lawmakers also cut the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 North Carolinians, cut tax rates for top earners while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent, rejected Medicaid expansion, cut pre-K for 30,000 kids, have undermined environmental protection enforcement, and made it harder to challenge death sentences even if racial bias in a trial could be proved.

But the Moral movement is gearing up for 2014 and beyond—hoping to place young organizers in counties across North Carolina to engage in voter mobilization and education as part of “Freedom Summer 2014,” challenging the voting restrictions in court, and planning more opportunities for peaceful resistance. —The Editors

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Feds Offer Atheists a Clergy Tax Break That They Don’t Want

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion F

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. Photo via RNS.

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.

Tax or Fee? Pastors Push Back Against City’s ‘Annual Registration Fee’

American flag and church steeple, Bobkeenan Photography /

American flag and church steeple, Bobkeenan Photography /

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.

Commission Suggests Ways to Keep Closer Eye on Lavish Ministries

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Credit: RNS photo courtesy Sen. Chuck Grassley's

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Credit: RNS photo courtesy Sen. Chuck Grassley's offical website.

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.

The Case for Fair Taxes

Photo: Tax forms,  © Garry L. /

Photo: Tax forms, © Garry L. /

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.

Lobbyists Spend A Lot of Money to Make Your Taxes Confusing

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. 

Where Do Our Tax Dollars Go?

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.

When you’ve finished your return and know what your tax payment is, here is a calculator that produces a “receipt” showing how it will be spent. For an explanation, see here.

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.

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 2, 2012

Obama: Jesus Would Tax The Rich; Pockets Of Prosperity Across USA Escaped Recession; Obama Won't Touch Climate With A Ten-Foot Pole; U.S. Press Freedom Fell 27 Places Last Year To 47th In The World; Gingrich Slams Romney: The Founding Fathers Believed In Equal Opportunity For The Poor; Why Both Parties Are Flying the Anti-Wall Street Banner; Occupy Your Voice; Can Science End War?; Alabama's Immigration Law To Cost State Millions In Lost Taxes, Study Says.