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WASHINGTON CITY PAPER‘s “The Tax-Free Zone” (12/2) reflects an often mean-spirited ignorance. Under the mantle of concern for a cash-strapped District government, Jonetta Rose Barras builds a rashly conceived argument for actions which would profoundly diminish the quality of life in the District. At the same time Congress is calling for a retreat from public responsibility for meeting social needs, the article calls for taxes which would cripple the private charities that are expected to pick up the slack. The uncharitable (or anti-charitable) biases of the reporter are clear from the way she frames her story, suggesting that some nonprofits started to serve the District’s growing homeless population only when they “caught the smell of green.”
Across this region, dedicated nonprofits have struggled to find the resources to meet human needs, to help the powerless, to provide diverse cultural events, to cure disease and treat the ill, and to supplement public education. Activities like these are the heart of civic culture. Governments contract with nonprofits because they are closer to the people and better able to offer responsive low-cost programs—and they seek neither personal nor organizational profit.
The number of nonprofits has grown because the need for them has increased. The fact that they attract private contributions and program fees which are used to serve public purposes actually decreases the burden on the government and taxpayers. Furthermore, private donations have not been able to offset even the Reagan/Bush budget cuts, not to mention the draconian cuts we face under a conservative Congress. The kind of attack on charity represented by the article is perfectly in line with the agenda of conservative politicians.
Nonprofits provide the services that our government cannot or will not offer. The imposition of local taxes on these charitably exempt groups would force most to cut back on their services and compel some to close their doors. Where are those in need to turn? What about the rest of us who depend on nonprofits for a better quality of life?
Vice President, Social Responsibility, The Union Institute, Kalorama Heights