Are you there Angus? It’s me, God.
I’m getting in touch, Senator King, because, even though I’m supposed to be all-knowing, I’m totally flummoxed by your effort to impose taxes on one of my most cherished institutions. It has come to my divine attention that you’re attempting to persuade your colleagues in Congress to repeal the tax exemption on the holy institution of professional football.
Dude, what are you thinking?
Correct me if I’m wrong (like that ever happens), but my saintly sources (in New Orleans, mostly) inform me that you’re co-sponsoring something called the Properly Reducing Over-exemptions for Sports Act or, as it’s commonly known, PRO Sports, which has to be the worst abbreviation since Moses tried referring to the Ten Commandments as X-Com.
Look, Angus, I know the federal government is strapped for cash, but that’s hardly the fault of the National Football League. Its teams may have sweetheart deals for stadiums, its owners may be philistines, its players may be devil worshippers — but the NFL pays taxes on that portion of the profits on the $9 billion it collects every year that isn’t protected by other tax shelters. Its central office, the only part of the operation that’s completely tax exempt, runs itself on a mere $200 million annually, much of which goes to pay the salaries of Commissioner Roger Goodell ($29.5 million) and his six top aides ($32 million). Those are big paychecks, even by heavenly standards, but they’re all currently taxable.
If the PRO Sports Act passed, it would force the NFL, the National Hockey League and the Professional Golfers Association to pay taxes on their administrative entities, but the amount it would generate comes to a measly $10 million a year. That wouldn’t pay for polish for the Pearly Gates, let alone cover the assorted budget shortfalls at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
We’re talking chump change, hardly worth the bother. Even for a mere mortal.
If you want to mess with tax exemptions, Angus, take my venerable advice, and go after something substantial.
Don’t look so shocked. I may be God, but I’m much more of a football fan than I am a supporter of earthly religions, which — despite their stated spiritual purposes — are mostly petty, flawed institutions focused on personal foibles, internal strife, and unseemly distractions.
Sort of like the Dallas Cowboys. Only with less attractive cheerleaders.
And these religious institutions are avoiding taxes to the tune of $71 billion a year.
According to a 2012 study by a University of Tampa professor, churches used their exemption to stiff state and local governments for more than $26 billion in property taxes. They also skipped paying capital gains taxes estimated at $41 million, more than four times what your puny bill would extract from the NFL, NHL, and PGA combined.
These figures represent conservative estimates, say those who’ve analyzed the study. “This is probably just the tip of the iceberg,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The problem with anyone — even your friendly neighborhood deity — getting a more accurate read on church finances is that there isn’t much documentation. “Religious groups are subjected to very minimal reporting requirements in the United States,” said Rob Boston, director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in an email. “Unlike secular non-profits, they are not required to file any forms providing information about their budgets and financial holdings.”