Monday March 8, 2010

Kansas Bishops Protest Bill Taxing Church Expenses

By Kathleen Gilbert

TOPEKA, Kansas, March 8, 2010 ( – The Kansas Catholic Conference is calling upon local Catholics to protest a bill introduced in the Kansas House of Representatives that they say would unfairly target religious non-profits for a tax hike.

House Bill 2549, as amended by a House committee, would raise taxes on utilities and lottery tickets, and would repeal a provision in Kansas law that exempts religious institutions from paying sales tax on their purchases.

However, the Kansas Catholic Conference is urging Catholics to actively oppose the measure, calling it discriminatory that the bill, which originally repealed the exemption for all non-profits, was amended so that only religious non-profits would lose the benefit.

The House is due to debate the measure next week.

The Conference argued in a legislative alert that the new tax “would seriously undermine the ability of religious groups to serve Kansas’ most vulnerable citizens in these very difficult times.”

“Thus the bill in its current form discriminates against organizations that serve the poor if they happen to be religiously affiliated,” they continued. “If passed, Catholic Charities will have to start paying the sales tax, whereas an organization that performs a similar service but is not religiously affiliated will not.

“This is not only bad policy, but it may well be unconstitutional.”

The Conference also argued that the measure was “short-sighted” because, as many thousands of Kansans rely on Catholic Charities each year to help ease financial burdens, “this proposed policy would have the effect of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.”

“Religious organizations like Catholic Charities save the state money by doing the job they do,” they said. “If their ability to do that job is compromised by suddenly having to pay the state sales tax, the state will lose far more than it gains.”

Catholic League president Bill Donohue expressed confidence that the legislation would be struck down in court should it pass.

“Not only do houses of worship and their charitable ancillary groups fulfill the express purpose of granting a tax-exempt status in the first place — servicing the common good — they cannot be singled out among non-profits in such a discriminatory manner,” said Donohue.

“If it were libraries, hospitals, foundations or colleges and universities that were subject to having their tax-exempt status pulled, it would be met with great resistance. Bet on Catholics, as well as Protestants, Jews and others, to register their outrage.”