Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You can have my Housing Allowance when you pry my cold, dead hands off of it…

…or when lawmakers get fed up with the abuse of the minister’s housing allowance by rich ministries, religious racketeers, and greedy pastors who have a second home and put much of their income in a housing allowance for that home, every dollar of it completely free from any income tax at all.

Someone make the case that Joe Sixpack has to pay taxes on his income and doesn’t get any exclusion for his singlewide complete with a deck and a mangy dog sleeping under it, while Kenneth and Gloria Copeland live in an 18,280 square-foot lakefront parsonage on 25 acres valued at $6.2 million and exclude hundreds of thousands of dollars from income taxes under the housing allowance, or while Phil Driscoll enjoys not owing federal income taxes on $408,638 provided to him by his ministry to buy a second home on a lake near Cleveland, Tenn.

No less than the Wall Street Journal writes on this issue,
Tax Break for Clergy Questioned.

I appreciate the writing of CPA Peter J. Reilly in Forbes on the matter,
Wall Street Journal Catches Up With Me on Clergy Tax Abuse
. Reilly's December article on the matter examined the Driscoll case in detail.

The SBC Executive Committee’s attorney, Augie Boto, is quoted in the WSJ article to say that "the housing allowance is critically important for making ends meet—it is not a luxury." True enough for almost all of us hackers and plodders in the SBC’s 46,000 churches who might be able to put $20k or so of our income in the housing allowance and save a few thousand annually on income taxes. It's not us that cause the disgust with this particular tax law.

Augie Boto, Frank Page, the SBC Executive Committee and our favorite SBC lobbyist, Richard Land, ought to be proactive on this matter and find a way to support legislation that will preserve the Housing Allowance in a reasonable fashion while excluding the ridiculous abuses, legal though they may be, by people like Phil Driscoll and Kenneth Copeland.

Else we all will lose. Besides that, it just ain't right.


Tim G said...

You have covered this well!

Peter Reilly said...

Thanks for your kind words. Someone commenting on yahoo thought I was being unkind to clergy like yourself, but I have been on the board of a small congregation and we took advantage of the rules to make a pathetic salary more palatable. I think a lot of abuse would be solved with a dollar limit.

That would not fix church owned extravagance and there the "convenience of the employer" would kick in. The government should not get involved in the religious polity. It probably makes sense for a Catholic bishop to be living in a big house and nobody should be trying to compute the fair rental value.

Although it may seem self-interested on my part (and it is) if you also go and comment on the Forbes piece on Forbes the comments might be noticed.

Again thank you for your kind words.

Peter Reilly said...

I meant "more noticed". I've gotten quite a bit more traffic since I've gone to Forbes

Tom Parker said...

The housing allowance is a wonderful legal way to beef up what too often is a small amount to be paid to Pastor a church particularly when the church is not in a position to pay more.

Sadly, as in all things there are those that abuse something.

But for ministers to abuse this allowance is very wrong.