Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the high-ranking Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressed the Senate Finance Committee on Monday at the invitation of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He spoke for a group of religious leaders that included a representative of the Catholic and Baptist faiths.
"While we appear here as religious leaders, the possible impairment of the charitable deduction in order to enhance tax revenues is not a religious issue. It is not a political issue. It is not even an economic issue," Oaks said. "It poses a question about the nature and future of America."Mormons are expected to give 10 percent of their earnings to the LDS Church as tithing, and they can claim that money as a charitable deduction on their taxes. This is the LDS Church's primary source of funding.
But the committee also heard a number of ideas to change the deduction, including President Barack Obama's call to cap the benefit for wealthy Americans. That idea was not supported by any of the five panelists, but Eugene Steuerle, a fellow at The Urban Institute, did support creating "a floor" for the deduction.
Under this idea, taxpayers could claim the deduction only if they gave a certain percentage of their income, say 2 percent, or a certain dollar amount. This would increase the amount of taxes the government claims, since studies show that small-dollar donors are likely to give with or without the tax incentive.
Hatch, the committee's ranking Republican, expressed skepticism about such proposals.
"Frankly, that sounds too good to be true," he said. "And, as we all know, when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Hatch called all the proposals to change the deduction "radical" and argued it was inappropriate to change the tax break in such economically difficult times when more people were relying on the help of charities.