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Municipal Services and Finance Proposal Makes Rounds around Pennsylvania and the Nation (redux)

Jun 9th, 2016 | By | Category: Features, Lead Article

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It’ summer.  It’s VBS time.  For the unwashed VBS is short for vacation bible school.  This has motivated the editors of EJ to resurrect a previously published article (Oct. 2011) that tells a tale of how church advocates may stealthfully garner government support for church agendas and evangelism.  This comes on the heels of a program in Pennsylvania (and some other states) that allows corporations and non-profits to receive a 90 percent tax credit on scholarships for students to attend private schools.  Most scholarships go to church-affiliated schools.  The program is designed to allocate government money to parochial schools through the back door, although promoted as school choice and educational opportunity.

 

October 21, 2011–The budget crunch has arrived in the United States. Personal finances are strained as the cost of basic necessities continues to rise while personal income remains relatively constant. Federally, the debate about the annual budget deficit and the national debt rages on. State budgets are in turmoil as individual states debate how to maintain critical services. School districts are scurrying to maintain educational programs while confronting decreasing revenues.

Arguably, the most critical budget crunch is being experienced at the municipal level. One would be hard pressed to consider municipal services discretionary. Services such as snow removal, public water supply, and public safety are needed services whose absence would cause turmoil and the decline of public welfare. Funding via public debt is less of an option at the municipal level.

Recently a proposal is being considered locally, state-wide and around the nation. The proposal is intended to help minimize municipal spending while maintaining public services. The proposal goes by a number of monikers depending on the locale, but is most commonly known as the “Public Service Exemption Tax.” The elements of the proposal include a monthly tax on all residents with an exemption for those who perform public municipal service that is normally provided by the local municipality. The number of hours required for the exemption range from 20 to 60 hours a week depending on the specific proposal. All proposals to date also include an exemption for those attending local church services at least twice a month. Those who attend do not have to provide public service work to obtain the exemption. Vacation bible school (VBS) also qualifies as church attendance. This exemption has resulted in critics labeling these proposals as the “Church Tax.”

Usin Urasinner, a local clergy man is offering a proposal in our locale. When asked if this was a “church tax” and not a municipal service tax, Urasinner responded, “Categorically it is not. This is a win-win situation. For those who choose not to attend church, they will contribute to our community need in these critical times. Choosing the church attendance exemption will make the community a better place by promoting the true and moral life. Church attendance is a public service.” Urasinner was also asked if the absence of synagogues and mosques locally makes the proposal favor Christianity over other religions. He responded, ‘It’s not a problem, if they want to start a church they are free to do so.” He was additionally asked about the lack of balance in the church attendance and the public service requirement: i.e., two church services monthly vs. 30 hours of public service work for those not attending church. He responded, “There is a lot of public service that is needed. For those who really care about the community, they should be pleased to contribute.”

Similar proposals have been forwarded in other local communities and at the state level. EJ will continue to follow this story.

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  1. This reader takes exception to the skeptical tone adopted in the article. Who would quibble with the goal of “promoting the true and moral life” of a community? And the exchange rate–two church services for 30 hours of public service–seems most reasonable. If Latin were used, the exchange rate could be higher still: say, two church services for 50 hours of community service.

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