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December 17, 2012 | News

David Odahowski’s Guest Column in the Sentinel Calls for Protecting Charitable Giving Tax Deduction

The Front Burner: Budget proposal threatens essential work of charities

December 14, 2012

By David A. Odahowski Guest columnist

Florida is the land of sunshine and state of dreams. We invented orange juice, perfected the family vacation, and today Floridians are leading the way in biotechnology and medical discoveries.

While our famous orange juice is nice and sweet, Florida is a place abundant in something even sweeter: generous individuals who give their money to charitable causes for the betterment of our communities. But as citrus canker threatens our oranges, politics in Washington is threatening the future of charity and the generosity of our people to the point of alarming danger.

Entrepreneurs like Alfred I. duPont (Nemours Children’s Hospital), George Jenkins (Publix Charities), Bill Darden (Darden Restaurants Foundation) and John S. and James L. Knight (Knight Foundation) built great fortunes here in Florida and left a legacy of generosity to provide the social goods and services through nonprofit and faith-based organizations that government and business can’t or won’t provide. The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Rollins College, Catholic Charities, Orlando Museum of Art, and the UCF Medical School all impact the daily lives of many Floridians and contribute to our economic vitality.

Yet the legacy of generosity that built these organizations in Florida and similar organizations across the country is being caught up in the battle over deficits and tax reform in Washington, D.C.

You might have seen on TV that there was a presidential election recently. Candidate Mitt Romney proposed, as a way to address our debt and deficit, to lower tax rates across the board, but also to cap itemized deductions, which would include the charitable deduction. Since the election, there has been much talk about that proposal, with a growing appetite for the capping deductions element of it.

But it’s now looking more likely that tax rates will go up, not down, for at least some Americans. This would be a double-whammy for many who are thinking about giving more money to charity, because they would have less money in their pockets and less tax incentive to part with their remaining discretionary money.

When it comes to itemized deductions, the charitable deduction is the most discretionary choice for most Americans, and it is the poor who will ultimately suffer the most if deductions are capped. The charitable deduction is different from other itemized deductions in that it encourages individuals to give their money to charitable causes for public benefit. Data suggest that for every dollar a donor gets in tax relief for his or her donation, the public typically receives $3 of benefit. No other tax provision can leverage that kind of private investment into our communities.

In this game of political trade-offs and deal making, some think we can no longer afford the charitable deduction. The reality is that we can’t afford to lose it and should instead consider expanding it.

Americans will still support charitable causes if there’s a change in the deduction, but all research shows that charitable contributions will be less. We cannot allow Washington to pass a provision that will further deplete coffers of already struggling charities.

Many of the needs of everyday Floridians are being met by nonprofits that depend on the generosity of donations from our friends and neighbors. And Americans are incredibly generous — last year, we gave $300 billion for Christmas gifts for those going without, for food pantries stretched thin in this tough economy, medical research to advance cures, for education scholarships and more.

Generosity is part of what it means to be an American. It’s a defining characteristic of who we are as a people that we volunteer and contribute to good causes. So why would politicians in Washington consider reducing our nation’s debt on the backs of those who, right now, need help the most?

David A. Odahowski is president and CEO of the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation.