Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Matt Yglesias makes the case that we should end the property-tax exemption for churches:
Urban land is a scarce commodity, and structures are valuable fixed assets. If you tax land and structures that are operated as homes and business, but don’t tax land and structures that are operated as churches, you end up with more land being used for churches and less being used for homes and businesses than would otherwise be the case. Now if the level of God’s affection for a town is determined in part by the square footage per worshipper of devotional space, this is a very reasonable policy. But the more common view . . . is that the key factors are the depth of worshippers’ personal relationships with Jesus Christ. By contrast, it’s pretty clear that at the margin the quantity of business activity in a town is in part a function of the square footage available for business purposes.
I think this is a reasonable-ish argument when it's applied to big mainline churches. Such a policy, however, would be punishing for inner-city communities. It's fairly well-settled that in many urban areas churches are the single most important community institutions. Many of these places of worship are small and operate on a shoe-string budget. For store-front churches, the tax exemption could be the difference between helping underserved populations and shuttering the doors.