The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue

Veto special fee

Provision to levy fee on nonprofits should be vetoed from budget by Gov. McCallum

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Gov. Scott McCallum should fully veto a provision in the state budget that would allow municipalities to levy fees - in essence, taxes - on churches and other charitable agencies.

The proposal is opposed by a broad-based coalition of church agencies - including the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the Wisconsin Council of Churches and the Wisconsin Jewish Conference - charities, private schools, fraternal organizations and hospitals.

They warn that the proposal, which would allow municipalities to charge churches and charitable groups for services - even if they did not receive these services - both undermines their tax-exempt status and would decrease the amount of money they would have available to provide services.

It defies logic that while government at all levels is cutting back on services to the neediest people and calling on churches and charities to do more, government would further deplete the meager funds charities have to provide these services.

But that's exactly what this proposal would do, despite a Wisconsin State Journal editorial (8/16), endorsing the provision, which argued that "money raised from fees must be used to offset property taxes, not fuel more spending." Even if that is true, lower property taxes will not help nonprofits, since they don't pay property taxes.

As Robert Duea, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services, said, this budget provision "will significantly undermine the ability of not-for-profits to meet community needs. This is particularly troubling when government is looking more and more to the private sector to do so."

Supporters of the provision seem to disagree whether it could be applied selectively or if it would have to apply to everyone. This confusion is another reason why it should be vetoed.

Make no mistake, churches and other non-profits already pay special assessments or fees to municipalities for specific services, such as sidewalk maintenance or tree-planting on their grounds. There is no objection to payments for such services, but this budget provision goes beyond that to include virtually any fee a municipality chooses to charge for any service - even if the nonprofit did not receive it.

In calling on Gov. McCallum to veto the proposal, John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and Michael Blumenfeld, executive director of the Wisconsin Jewish Conference, said "The proposal to enact a stealth tax on churches and other nonprofit organizations is ill conceived and not clearly defined." Supporters, they said, should write separate legislation that would eliminate ambiguities and be thoroughly debated.

This provision demands a full veto.

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