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President Obama Publishes His Administration's 2016 Budget Proposal—Are Charities Among the Biggest Losers?

On February 2, 2015, President Obama published his 2016 budget proposal.  It proclaims that “[a] simpler, fairer, and more efficient tax system is critical to achieving many of the President’s fiscal and economic goals.”  While some tax practitioners may debate the claim that the tax provisions embedded in the President’s budget proposal make the tax system simpler, it is a certainty that a significant number of tax practitioners will question the fairness of these provisions.

Charitable Deductions

As in the past, the President’s budget proposes that “wealthy millionaires” pay no less than 30% of their income in federal income taxes.  To facilitate accomplishing that goal, President Obama suggests these taxpayers be prevented from making charitable contributions to reduce their tax liability.  He states:  “…this proposal will act as a backstop to prevent high-income households from using tax preferences to reduce their total tax bills to less than what many middle class families pay.”

This provision of the budget proposal will definitely not receive broad support from the charitable organization community.  Taking away the tax deduction resulting from charitable contributions certainly does not motivate taxpayers to transfer their wealth to charities.

Whether a charitable contribution deduction is a tax preference item is open to debate.  A charitable contribution certainly does not seem to be “a tax preference” item.  All taxpayers generally benefit in the same manner by this deduction.  Shouldn’t taxpayers receive a tax deduction for wealth transfers to charities?  Don’t we want to incentivize taxpayers to fund charitable needs through contributions?  Eliminating this deduction for certain taxpayers may generate billions of dollars of tax revenues, but it will definitely impair charitable organizations from obtaining much needed funding.  For this reason alone, hopefully lawmakers will resist removing the charitable contribution deduction from the tax code.

Contributions To College Athletic Programs

College sports fans—whether you are wealthy or not—buried in the President’s budget proposal is a provision that eliminates the deductibility of the charitable contribution you are required to make as a pre-requisite to purchasing tickets for college sporting events.  Most colleges will not be pleased with this proposal!  While President Obama has talked about this type of tax reform in the past, this is the first time we have seen it in one of his budget proposals.  The provision, if enacted into law, is estimated to generate over $2.546 billion in tax revenues during the period of 2016-2025.  Like the elimination of the charitable deduction for “wealthy” taxpayers, this provision will result in charities being the biggest losers.

Stay tuned!  Time will tell whether lawmakers will adopt these proposals.

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Larry J. Brant

Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder and the Chair of the Tax & Benefits practice group at Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant is licensed to practice in Oregon and Washington. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.

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