Denver Post Attacks Coloradoans As Ungenerous - Ignored Effect of Taxes

December 7th, 2008 10:36 PM

"Stingy," was what the UN deputy Secretary General called Americans for our response to the Asian tsunami a few years ago.  His comparison conveniently ignored our private contributions, which dwarf anything governments have to offer, especially in Red States.  (It also ignored the fact that the US Navy was the only instrument delivering anything approaching actual aid, as opposed to notional aid, which consists of meetings about aid rather than aid itself.)

So it should be a matter of concern when the Colorado Non-Profit Association issues a report claiming large declines in Colorado's charitable giving between 2005 and 2006.  The average family's charitable giving declined from $4075 to $4046.

But what goes unmentioned is that, according to the Tax Foundation, the average per capita state and local tax burden rose from 3.1% to 3.4%, and from $3815 to $4185, more than 10 times the putative decline in giving.  The idea that Coloradoans might, in part, have been giving less voluntarily because they were giving more mandatorily doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone.

There are also significant methodological questions.  They claim that Colorado has the 5th highest income, adjusted for cost of living, in the country.  But when I use the BEA's personal income numbers,adjusted by the same state Cost of Living Index they use, Colorado comes in 15th, not 5th.

The study fails to account for volunteer hours contributed.  It's understandable that an organization that defines well-being at least in part by how many paid staff they can afford to hire, would minimize the contributions of volunteers.

The Denver Post's story asks none of these questions, and completely ignores the tax issue and the relevant methodological issues, instead amounting to a press release for the state's non-profits.  Since they tend to support any change in tax policy which allows them to lobby a few state officals rather than compete for fundaising among the state's citizenry, this report and article will almost certainly be cited as the basis for further proposed tax increases.