We ended 2012 by surviving the so-called Mayan Doomsday. We began 2013 by driving off the so-called Fiscal Cliff before averting possible economic disaster. Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 which put the nation back on safe ground, for the moment.
Previously, I looked at the Act and provided information about what key elements mean for the nonprofit sector. Now, let’s look at:
The Charitable Giving Coalition, chaired by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, as well as the AFP Political Action Committee, won a great victory when Congress preserved the charitable giving tax deduction and reinstated the IRA Charitable Rollover for 2012 and 2013. Everyone who was involved in visiting members of Congress, writing them, or calling them to advocate for the nonprofit sector certainly has a right to take pride in what the sector has accomplished.
However, before we get too carried away congratulating ourselves, let’s remember that the nonprofit sector continues to face danger.
The return of Pease Amendment provisions will make charitable giving a bit more expensive for wealthy donors. Higher taxes will also mean that donors will have less money with which to give. As a result, organizations may face some challenges. But, these are challenges that we have faced before. We’ll just have to work a bit more creatively.
Unfortunately, there are other looming dangers.
The Fiscal Cliff legislation, which was originally supposed to decrease the deficit, will actually increase the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In other words, we’re still headed full-speed ahead to economic collapse which would be a disaster for the nonprofit sector and society in general.
Charitable giving has historically correlated to about two percent of Gross Domestic Product. If GDP growth continues at a slow pace, philanthropy is also likely to grow only modestly. If runaway deficit spending leads to another recession, we can expect a likely decline in overall philanthropy.
All Congress has done is buy a bit of time.
Republicans have signaled that they will address the issue of spending cuts within the next two months. In two months, Congress will have to vote on whether to increase the nation’s debt ceiling. President Obama has already said that any spending cuts will require an increase in tax revenue in order to garner Democrat support.
Having achieved a tax rate increase, The White House now seeks to raise additional revenue in other ways. For example, the Administration may want to apply the top tax rates to those earning less than the current threshold of $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for married couples. Also, the Administration is likely to seek limitations on deductions, particularly for the “wealthy.” The Administration has previously expressed support for both revenue generating options. Now, it’s likely those proposals will resurface during spending-cut negotiations.
So, while the charitable deduction appears to be safe for the moment, that safety may only last for two months.
Think I’m being alarmist? Let me provide some perspective from the US Debt Clock:
In 2000 the deficit was $5.8 trillion, which was $56,150 per taxpayer.
In 2008 the deficit was $9.2 trillion, which was $85,893 per taxpayer.
In 2012 the deficit was $16.4 trillion, which was $145,620 for every taxpayer.
Now, the Fiscal Cliff deal will add another $4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years!
At some point, the American economy will either collapse, going the way of Greece, or the government will get its act together and control spending. I’ve heard a lot of talk during the debate over the Fiscal Cliff about the need to return to Clinton Era tax rates. Sadly, there was little talk of returning to Clinton Era spending levels, even as a percentage of GDP which would still allow for spending increases.
The situation must be dealt with for the good of the nation. Unfortunately, this may require some pain for the nonprofit sector in the form of a reduced charitable giving tax deduction and reduced direct grants to and contracts with nonprofit organizations.
On the floor of the House of Representatives, during debate over the Fiscal Cliff legislation, Democrats have already begun to argue for additional revenues, echoing statements this week from The White House. In other words, the nonprofit sector has made it out of the first round of debates. But, the second round is quickly approaching.
Challenging times remain immediately ahead.