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Enabling the non-profit sector

08/16/02 12:00AM By Olin Robison
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(Host) Commentator Olin Robison has picked up on resident Bush's support for charitable donations.

(Robison) Last winter President Bush spoke to Congress and the nation regarding charitable giving. I would like to focus on a passage about half way through that speech. It is the following, and here I quote the president: Groups are working in every neighborhood in America to fight homelessness and addiction and domestic violence, to provide a hot meal or a mentor or a safe haven for our children.

The president then continues, Our nation should support the good works of these good people who are helping their neighbors in need. So I propose allowing all taxpayers, whether they itemize or not, to deduct their charitable contributions. Estimates show this could encourage as much as $14 billion a year in new charitable giving, money that will save and change lives.

As regular listeners to these commentaries already know, I am not in favor of the president's plans to fund social services through so-called faith-based organizations. I don't like the blurring of the lines between church and state. My hope is that this idea will not survive the court tests that will surely come.

I do favor, however, the government creating greater incentives for all of us as citizens and taxpayers to support such organizations as generously as possible. The president's proposal to allow all taxpayers to deduct their charitable contributions whether they itemize or not does just that. It is, in my opinion, a very good idea.

I also believe there are other creative and imaginative ways available to go much further down this road. Using the tax code to create incentives for us as taxpayers to behave in certain ways is time tested and frequently used. Why not, therefore, do more? For instance, why not create incentives for all of us to give more? Why not consider allowing charitable contributions to count as double deductions?

The benefits would be several: First, the charities would almost certainly get much more in gifts enabling them to render more public services, quite possibly lowering the demand on the government to provide those services. Second, the cost to the government in lost tax revenues would be only a fraction of the increased funding flowing to the charities. And third, such a scheme gets conveniently around the thorny issue of government control and charities, since the gifts would come from individuals rather than the government.

Such a scheme would have the additional advantage of allowing, even encouraging, taxpayers to support those organizations they believe to be doing the best job delivering the social services each taxpayer believes to be important. That is a notion that ought to appeal both to Republicans and Democrats alike.

Now, truth in advertising really does require me to confess my vested interest in this sort of thing. Apart from a few years of government service many years ago, I have spent my entire life in the non-profit sector, and so I am biased. But this might be a good idea despite the bias.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.
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