Opinion: No, all of your money is not the government’s to spend

School choice was on trial again this week. This time, an attorney told members of the Georgia Supreme Court the case was “about so much more” than the particular law his clients seek to overturn.

He was right, just not in the way he imagined.

Alex Sponseller argues for the state Monday in the Georgia Supreme Court case involving the tax-credit scholarship. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

Alex Sponseller argues for the state Monday in the Georgia Supreme Court case involving the tax-credit scholarship. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

At issue is Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship law, which allows donors to private-school scholarship organizations to claim a credit against their state income taxes. The state caps the amount of credits on offer at $58 million per year, which has led to some apparent confusion about just whose money is being spent.

As the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous state courts have recognized, it is not the state’s money when a private individual or company makes a private donation to a private organization. Yet, the plaintiffs in this case stubbornly insist it is. And, having run out of other ways to stop a program they just don’t like, they now argue the program violates the state Constitution’s ban on spending money “directly or indirectly in aid of” religious institutions because some — though not all — of the students who receive these scholarships use them at private schools.

Taken to its natural conclusion, the logic of the plaintiffs’ claim has implications far beyond education policy. These implications were quickly and penetratingly elucidated by Justice David Nahmias.

“When you say (this money is) owed to the treasury, the theory behind that is: The government is entitled to all of my money, unless it lets me keep some of my money,” Nahmias said during Monday’s oral arguments. “A tax credit, or a tax deduction, is just a recognition that I do not have to pay taxes on certain money. But unless your theory is the government owns all of my money to start with, and only gives me the benefit of not paying taxes through deductions or credits, then it is not the government’s money, and it has no direct effect on the state treasury. Or indirect effect.”

The other logical implication of this argument is that if a tax credit for a donation which might indirectly end up being used at a religious school is unconstitutional, a tax deduction for a gift directly to a religious institution would also have to be unlawful.

“You have just undermined everyone in Georgia who wants to take a tax deduction for a charitable donation to their church or synagogue,” Nahmias told the attorney.

While I have little doubt we will soon hear calls to bar the deductibility of such gifts, Georgia’s Supreme Court ought not to beat those radicals to the punch.

The final blow to the plaintiffs’ logic came from one of the defense attorneys, Tim Keller of the Institute for Justice, who represented the families that currently receive scholarships funded by the tax credits.

Keller noted that Oklahoma’s Supreme Court, in a similar case, found “the key phrase was not ‘directly or indirectly,’ but ‘in aid of’ …. And the court there said these types of programs are not in aid of private or religious schools; rather, they are in aid of parents and students.”

That’s exactly right. It is no surprise supporters of an education status quo that jealously guards its money and turf would see private scholarships as a benefit to private schools. The rest of us should see quite plainly that the ones who benefit from the program, and would suffer from its ending, are not schools. They’re students.

Reader Comments 0

92 comments
AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

I've been waiting on proof of the Constitution saying that church and state should be separate but, for some reason, I knew I wouldn't get any -


First Amendment


The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.  It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices.  


Amendment I


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; 


"Freedom concerning Religion;" Read it, absorb it, feel it, learn it, deal with it.


https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment

breckenridge
breckenridge

@AndyManUSA#45 

Funding Christian schools with taxpayer dollars is promoting religion. James Madison, the author of the 1st Amendment, was very clear on this:


"The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.' James Madison, Father of the Constitution, author of the Bill of Rights, December 3, 1821.

Starik
Starik

@AndyManUSA#45 Preaching Christianity with tax dollars isn't "establishment of religion?" Do you justify mandatory prayer in public schools?

breckenridge
breckenridge

@AndyManUSA#45 

For the record.......when Madison wrote "corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers" he very well could could have been writing about the filthy traitors that comprise the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Starik @Doom classical lib @AndyManUSA#45


In my school the principal started every morning off with a prayer. But back then nobody minded and out of several hundred students I can't think of one Muslim in any of our classes. Everyone was either Jewish or Christian or simply not bothered by the prayer. 


Today he could never get away with that. There would be some hyper sensitive someone who would be offended and make a ruckus just because he could. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Starik @AndyManUSA#45


Nope. The people who are sending their kids to school also pay taxes. Why should they not have the right to take their own tax dollars and send their kids to the school of their choice. They are directing the funds- not the gubment. Andy is correct on that point. 


Furthermore, there are other instances where the govt clearly spends tax dollars on religious activity. Every heard of military chaplains?

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Starik @Doom classical lib @AndyManUSA#45


Nah. When I went to school if you didn't want to pray you simply sat there in silence. No teacher or principal was standing over your head making sure you prayed and did your hail Marys. It was unconstitutional. But it was also something that didn't bother anyone since virtually everyone there was Christian and the few that weren't had enough respect for the rest of the kids who were religious that they didn't make a fuss about it. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

Here's an idea for Trump's wall - forget the damn thing.  It will be not only a huge waste of money, but ineffective to boot.

Starik
Starik

@breckenridge Hopefully, when the wall is done Trump will declare the border "secure" and we can fix the immigration laws.

drmensch
drmensch

Mr Wingfield and his fellow conservatives have a way with words. They manage to twist facts and reason to support their misguided views. This kind of gibberish though, can't legitimize laws that flaunt our Constitutiont's intent that there must be a separation between the State and Church.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Without their trade with the U.S. the Mexican economy would be adiosville.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Now Bookman is babbling some idiocy that we're humiliating Mexico. Well how utterly stupid is that when Mexico has encouraged illegal immigration into our country so their economy can benefit hugely by money flowing back into that corrupt country from illegals sending money back home across the border they accumulated from a variety of means. It's about time the Mexican government is humiliated.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Bookman's over there spewing alternate facts about Trump's first six days in office. You do have to give Bookman credit he knows how to fire up his base of lemmings and keep them happy. Of course he probably gets most of his material from far-left propaganda sources further up the food chain that keeps him both fired up but even more important it keeps him employed.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@SGTGrit Bookman's over there spewing alternate facts about Trump's first six days in office.


You guys elected a birther who thinks Cruz's dad killed Kennedy and you want to talk about Alternative Facts


Your girl Conway said Trump is giving Alternative Facts


Get your Alternative Facts straight please.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@SGTGrit I think you meant to say that he keeps them "angry." That's the nastiest collection of foul mouthed little punks I've ever seen in my life.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

No matter how you twist it, these tax credits are simply redirecting tax money from public use to private use, with negligible benefit to the public. In addition, much of the money goes to subsidize the teaching of religion, which the Constitution prohibits. Why not just tax the people and then have the state give the money directly to religious schools? It is exactly the same thing in effect, just not as sneaky. 

Starik
Starik

@AndyManUSA#45 @Ychromosome "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  1st Amendment

jhgm63
jhgm63

@AndyManUSA#45 it is pretty standard for appointed officials to submit their "resignations" during a change in administration (after all, they serve at the President's pleasure). What is not standard, is for them to leave before the transition period is complete.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@jhgm63 @AndyManUSA#45 If this were a normal transition that would be true but what use does President Trump have for a bunch of john kerry sycophant gasbags?

DerekGator
DerekGator

@Hedley_Lammar @AndyManUSA#45 Give me a break, career government employees don't just resign, you would have to pry their useless butts out of there, they were getting fired and let them resign.