by Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director
On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to meet with Senators Daines and Tester in Washington DC. I had a list of things to talk about – some of them sent forward by various MNA members. In the end – two issues prevailed: the budget and tax reform.
On October 19 the Senate passed a budget that cuts revenue while increasing spending, particularly in the area of defense. The rationale is that economic growth will be generated and will fill the gap, allowing domestic programs to be sufficiently funded. We in the nonprofit world should be concerned on a couple of fronts. First, will it work? It might (or might not) in the ten year context. History suggests this gamble could go either way. But even so, there is still the short run to consider. If defense spending is increased and revenue is decreased, the only place the money can come from is domestic, and that’s a hit to the work nonprofits do every day in communities across the nation. There is some agreement the budget is primarily a gateway to tax reform, given some of the language in the budget resolution.
Regarding tax reform, there are two significant issues nonprofits need to weigh in on. And there is some immediacy to this, because tax reform is on a fast track.
First, the weakening of the Johnson Amendment. There may be a certain amount of fatigue on this issue, but I heard loud and clear from both our Senators: make noise. Now is the time to reach out to our delegation and let them know we want to protect the nonpartisan nature of nonprofits and we reject any attempt to weaken the Johnson Amendment. If the Johnson Amendment is weakened or eliminated, it will be a game changer for charitable nonprofits. This is in committee right now, so it is important to reach out to all three of our congressional delegation. Here is the contact information for our delegation. If this issue is important to you, please reach out. Here is more background.
Second, the charitable deduction. Changes to the charitable deduction are a significant component of tax reform. The proposal currently in play doubles the non-itemizer deduction, which the experts say would effectively eliminate the incentive for giving from all but the top 5%. There is another proposal, H.R. 3988, which offers an alternative in the form of a universal, non-itemizer deduction. This proposal has its drawbacks as well, but will not almost completely decimate the charitable giving incentive. The message? Extend the charitable giving incentive to all Americans through a universal non-itemizer deduction.
This is not a particularly optimistic report I bring to you, except for this: both senators and their staff expressed in no uncertain terms the need to be vocal, visible advocates. Use email, phone, social media and the press to make your point. Grassroots pushback is effective but requires your engagement. If you need assistance or more information in order to craft or send your message, please reach out to us at MNA. Thank you – and go make some noise!