I must be one of those Wacko Birds. Sometimes in the middle of the day I watch Pennsylvania’s version of C-SPAN, PCN-TV, carrying the riveting excitement of live committee hearings in our state legislature, but then I watched bowling on B&W TV as a kid. While watching recent House Appropriations Committee budget hearings I made a rather unsavory observation. Names have no purpose or importance here, because unsavory emanated from both parties and seemed to be part of the process, just business as usual.
What bothered me were pleas to the committee to reinstate appropriations to non-profit organizations in the private sector and/or increase their funding more than it had been. This is my money. While I don’t entirely think it is wrong for government to assist non-profits, especially if it can be demonstrated that the actions of the non-profit save the taxpayer money or have a valued function that is better administered in the private sector, direct assistance through taxation takes not only my money but my choice. Picking and choosing with other people’s money creates wars for contributions that should exist but not inside the halls of government.
It would be much better and much cleaner if all government assistance to non- profits was based on the School Choice EITC model, an indirect approach to assistance. This model returns voluntary choice to individuals or corporations or tax paying groups as it should be, by allocating pools of potential assistance that would only be paid as tax credits in return for voluntary contributions competed for in the private sector. Cleaner still would be if tax credits were less than full reimbursement, say 75% to 85% of the donation amount, leaving a portion squarely on the shoulders of the contributor, as any reimbursement still is other people’s money and this would prove true intent rather than a scheme to merely pass through public funds. Any non-reimbursed amounts would still be eligible as a deduction on federal returns.
Large highly valued needs, such as education scholarships to attend charter or private schools could stand alone with their own appropriated fund. Smaller more numerous non-profits could compete from a common pool appropriated for the potential benefit of any. Strict value and need standards would have to be met to be allowed into the pool of potentials. Proof of economic benefit to the taxpayer or extreme social need should top the list. Perhaps legislators should vote individually for non-profit inclusion on common lists among those that pass independent screening.
Of course any such funds, single purpose or multi-purpose, must have caps to protect the taxpayer and otherwise budgeted revenue. From there it would be first come first served to obtain the available credits. This restores valuable elements of true charity while eliminating the unsavory sight of legislators publicly begging on behalf of any specific non-profit organization for the money of others perhaps against their will. It also effectively isolates and quarantines useful efforts, voluntarily embarked upon by people of vision, from the entanglement of government, with its regulations and rules and departments and bureaus and employees and unions and pensions and all ancillary issues it invariably brings with it.
EITC for education has been a great success for helping deserving students avoid failing schools. Sometimes incentives for desired voluntary efforts could take forms other than tax credits. Such would be the case with an act like NJ Senate No 2231, that would replace government entanglement in Medicaid by granting immunity from civil malpractice liability in all their practice to physicians and dentists who agree to donate at least 4 hours per week in a non-government free clinic, a wonderful concept that could so attract participation that there would be a shortage of available free clinics. Since this approach has been predicted to hold potential for both huge savings to the taxpayer and better access to higher quality health care for the poor, the EITC model could then be employed, with a dedicated fund of tax credits limited in size only by attracting enough voluntary contributions for a sufficient number of free clinics, themselves independent of any government ties. Because of substantial predicted net savings to the state by bypassing Medicaid, extending whatever voluntary credits as necessary to assure every willing physician the needed resources would be entirely warranted.
It’s not hard to see how, in many respects, this approach to getting desired things done is revolutionary and refreshing. I can’t imagine it would be that hard to address my unsavory observation and not only fix it but head down a new path that would better respect freedom while benefiting us all.