Presbyterian Church (USA) wants to raise your taxes, though it pays none


The Presbyterian Church (USA), which pays no Federal Income taxes or property taxes as a non-profit religious organization, wants to see your taxes raised.

Produced by the denomination’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and backed by the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the tax reform proposal entitled “Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age” would make the U.S. tax system:

          “more progressive, taxing those with greater wealth at higher proportions of their income, wealth, and inheritance;

          “more transparent, which includes both simplicity and accountability for all tax preferences and tax expenditures;

          “more solidarity-focused, which means reducing the use of tax expenditures, shelters and havens, and supporting more adequate international standards to reduce tax competition within and among nations;

          “more sustainable for current and future generations, which means avoiding unproductive financial and ecological indebtedness; and

          “more adequate, effectively addressing broader objectives of economic and social health than efficiency alone, such as meaningful employment, improved family life, and restored public trust. The tax system must be characterized by both efficiency in tax collection and revenue sufficient for the common good.”

The recommendation section of the Presbyterian proposal threatens to bite off the very hand that feeds it as it seeks the elimination of all deductions for charitable contributions. “Charitable contributions are only deductible by the approximately 25 percent of taxpayers who itemize deductions. Although tax-exempt charitable organizations (including religious bodies) play a critical role in our country, the nonprogressive means by which most tax-exempt organizations are financed means that nonprofits have a great responsibility to provide social benefit, broadly conceived, and to prevent leaders and managers from receiving undue personal gain.”

The recommendations target high-income Americans which are also the people who traditionally populate Presbyterian pews. The denomination’s proposed tax overhaul includes other tax hikes for its own members:

          “The mortgage interest deduction as currently constructed privileges those who borrow the most; it should be limited to one residence and capped at a level that has a meaningful relationship to average home costs (i.e. that reflects reasonable housing needs rather than luxury market subsidies);

          “Rules governing tax exempt ‘social welfare organizations’ (501(c)(4)s) should exclude or strictly limit the eligibility of donations for partisan political purposes, parties and candidates, and the individual and corporate donors to or through such organizations should be made public due to their influence on the political process.

          “The exclusion of capital gains on home sales privileges high-value property owners who can make maximum use of exclusion.

          “The exclusion of certain foreign-earned income (up to $95,100 in 2012) and housing benefits privileges income earned out of the country and encourages the movement of United States citizens to foreign jurisdictions.

          “The capping of property taxes for senior citizens privileges many elders while burdening younger citizens of similar income. This tax expenditure does not appear to adhere to the principle of progressivity; means testing is one solution to this, as is raising the cap, depending on jurisdiction.

          “Work to cap deductions for state tax, and municipal bond interest exemptions, for very high net worth households.”

The PCUSA will vote on the proposal at the meeting of the denomination’s General Assembly, June 14-21 in Detroit.

The PCUSA’s 2012 statistics report 10,262 congregations with 1,849,496 members nationwide, and the denomination is headquartered in Louisville, Ky.


Additional Resources:

Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age (pdf file)

Presbyterian Mission Agency 2013-2014 budgets

2012 Annual Report of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (Financial information begins on page 23)

Per capita budget for 2013

The Board of Pension’s Financial Report 2012

Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation, Consolidated Financial Statements, Years Ended March 31, 2012 and 2011


Carmen Fowler LaBerge