April 1, 2009

Retirement, for me, was just around the corner.  Two years ago, while just 52 years of age, I was pretty much putting things in order for a decent retirement by the age of 67.  Although I thought I would be able to retire much earlier, I was liking what I was doing, ministering to a nice congregation of people and living in a quiet sub rural community.

When I came to this church I really wanted to make this my last "hurrah."  I hate moving and I don't like change.  Even though I was a believer of moving forward, I certainly didn't want to move backward and I certainly didn't want to stay the course in any mundane status quo that would lead me or my church to mediocrity.

It seems that when things roll along, even if slowly but surely, something comes along and pulls the program down.  It goes without saying, that which came along was a declining economy and the Obama Administration.  There is no doubt that the former caused the latter as more than a majority of the citizens of this country believed that a change was needed in order to positively address the demands of the economy.  With that we got socialism.

With the downturn of the economy came the decline in contributions to charitable organizations, including the church.  There also came the decline in my 403-B retirement account.  Between the end of September and March I lost nearly 60 percent of my 403-B.  Fortunately that was not the only retirement account I have, but the other two render less than 2 percent interest and I didn't contribute as much to those as I had before.

Is retirement possible now?  Absolutely not.  My wife and I did a little accounting the other day and we came up with a conservative date for my retirement.  Barring a complete stock market crash, a great depression in which stagflation reaches worse proportions than that under Jimmy Carter and the elimination of deductions on charitable giving, we came up with December 31, 2039 - my 85th birthday!

But, we are on the verge of a depression.  Just how "great" remains to be seen.  But if history is any indicator, it will be "GREAT."  History teaches us that government programs which lead to raising taxes and government intrusion into the private sector produce prolonged economic pain.  You need only look back to FDR's first two terms to see just how disastrous socialistic programs are.  I will address these further in another post.

Now comes President Obama with his proposals for reductions in tax deductions for charitable contributions.  As Dick Morris pointed out last week, the president was rather glib when he went before the camera to give his reasons for cutting the deductions.  He noted that Obama's "pathetic defense at his press conference -- that he would still give a $100 dollar check even if he got $11 less of tax deduction from it was both disingenuous and beside the point."

It is now certainly the buzz of the philanthropy world.  This is all a part of the president's fiscal 2010 budget blueprint.  It will first affect Americans in the top income brackets. While some fear a falloff in donations, others are asking about motive. Would wealthy Americans really stop giving to charities if their deductions were reduced?

Under the president's plan, itemized tax deductions for charitable giving and mortgages would be capped for those earning more than $250,000 a year. Changes would be phased in gradually over the next few years. So in 2010, instead of getting a 33% or 35% deduction for charitable donations, Americans in the top income brackets, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, would get somewhere in the neighborhood of 28%.

In the Obama budget, the cuts on tax deductions for upper-income Americans -- coupled with cuts in government spending -- are projected to help raise $634 billion for a kind of big federal piggy bank that would be used to extend health coverage to the more than 47 million people in America who are uninsured and subsidize premiums for others who can't afford what they have.

Critics are already voicing concern that charities, hard hit by a decline in donations because of sinking stock prices on Wall Street, could suffer further. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2  Democrat in the House, said the potential loss of philanthropic giving is "clearly one of our concerns." And CNBC's Maria Bartiromo said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" last Friday that the Obama blueprint comes with "such unintended consequences" and said of charitable donations, "Get ready for those to go off a cliff."

Add this dilemma on top of the fact that each day nearly 18,000 Americans (on average) lose their jobs and another 20 million or so are underemployed and you have the recipe for a drop in church contributions, not to mention other charitable giving.

I minister to a church wherein the giving once topped off back in the late summer of 2008 and has slowly declined since. Mine is not the only congregation to have this happen.  A recent survey of over 1600 churches across the country, rural and suburban, shows that offerings have steadily declined over the last six month.  The "average" church's giving has slipped some 8 percent but most of that due to fears of job loss, cutback in pay or the mere saving for that certain rainy day.

Ah "retirement."  A word that perhaps will remain only a word out of the mouth's of wishful thinkers and may become only a memory for those who are currently retired but must now face the probability of having to go to their local Wal-Mart to see if there is an opening.

I recently asked my wife how I would look in a blue smock.  When she asked why, my response was, if the church can't pay a livable wage I will have to start using a new vocabulary: "Hi! Welcome to Wal-Mart."  To which she responded, "You're too young, better get a back brace and a pair of gloves."

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.