With the payroll tax package slipping away as a vehicle to renew a slew of expired tax credits, charitable organizations say they are stepping up lobbying efforts to persuade Members to reauthorize the measures some other way.
Groups such as Enterprise Community Partners, the Land Trust Alliance and Independent Sector say that even if they lack the political muscle of better-funded corporate interests, they are working to make sure lawmakers hear their side.
The message: Renew the tax credits yesterday, and don’t cherry-pick some while leaving others in limbo.
“We are worried that certain items will be picked,” said Peter Lawrence, senior director of public policy and government affairs for Enterprise Community Partners. “If Congress decides to willy-nilly pick a few items, the ones that aren’t picked are going to be left and won’t get the profile and attention they deserve.”
Some Members of Congress have said that all of the expiring tax credits should get a full review by Capitol Hill— perhaps as part of a bigger reform of tax laws — instead of just getting another extension. But lobbyists for charities, in particular, say there isn’t time for a larger vetting of the expired credits and that not doing an extenders package will chill charitable donations and ultimately could cost jobs and community investment.
Carrie Calvert, senior legislative representative for Feeding America, said the expired provision that allows small and midsized businesses to take an enhanced tax deduction when they donate food is costing her charity much-needed fare from restaurants, farms and small retailers.
“Without this tax extender, it’s cheaper for them to dump the extra food in a landfill than to donate it,” she said.
Charitable and business interests alike are telling Congress there’s urgency in renewing the tax provisions. In recent years, Members have renewed the extenders after they expired but made them retroactive. But that may be little comfort to charities such as Feeding America.
“The fact of the matter is this extra food we want businesses to donate — it’s rotting as we speak,” Calvert said. “It’s very hard to go back in time to donate excess food.”
Calvert, like other advocates for charities, said her group wants Congress to provide a one-year extension of all the expired provisions and then sort out the effectiveness of individual extenders as part of tax reform.
Some of the lobbyists for charities say privately that they are worried the extenders fight might morph into a Capitol Hill version of Darwin’s theory: Instead of survival of the fittest, it will turn into survival of the most politically connected — leaving charities at a disadvantage.
Russ Shay, director of public policy for the Land Trust Alliance, said organizations like his are “victims” of a broken Congress. His group thrives on tax incentives for people who donate land easements or property, he said.
“They do it out of the love they have for their land — these are modest-income landowners who can’t afford to do it unless there is some sort of tax benefit for them,” Shay said.
He added that the charitable community is ready for a tax reform debate.
Lawrence agreed, saying his group has already gathered data on the effect of the new markets tax credit, which provides an incentive for investing in low-income areas. In one case, the credit helped secure financing to renovate an old factory in Baltimore. It’s now a space used as housing for public teachers and for Teach for America.
“Demand has been growing,” Lawrence said. “These are all defensible tax provisions that should be extended.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.