George Will

     The village offers courses on anger management. And parenting, which involves anger management. Everyone receives instruction that, Carroll says, teaches them that ``mom and dad did not mess you up, and neither did your siblings, the government or society.'' Which leaves? Accepting responsibility is a step toward recovering what is lost on the street -- personhood.

     Of the village's $25 million budget, a quarter comes from various governments. Another quarter comes from donated cars. Which is why Carroll is worried about tax legislation gestating in Congress.

     Charitable institutions nationwide raise many millions of dollars by having donated vehicles auctioned. In 2000, 733,000 taxpayers reduced their liability by about $654 million. Congress is dismayed -- too much so -- at the disparity between the valuation placed on a car by a donator (say, $5,000 -- the threshold above which an independent appraisal already is required) and the amount a charity may reap from auctioning it (say, $500).

     A Senate bill would limit a donor's tax deduction to the amount the car sold for at auction. This would mean a long period when donors would not know the value of their gift -- a serious disincentive to donate. A House bill would require an independent appraisal of any car valued at more than $250, meaning all cars. The appraisal would be paid for by the donor and might cost more than the value of the tax deduction to the donor.

     Why not simply require donors to reduce their tax liability by the Blue Book well-calibrated assessment of vehicles' fair market values? Most will bring close to that when retailed after auction. Considering the bang for the buck from charities, and the savings their good works mean for governments, the Senate and House bills are pound-foolish without even being penny-wise.

     It takes a village to raise the fallen to their feet -- a village like Carroll's. And it takes various rivulets of donations. Were Congress to divert to the government's convenience a portion of one such stream -- one crucial to charities, but trivial in relation to federal revenues -- this would traduce the principle that government should empower, not hinder or supplant, civil society's ameliorative works.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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