2008-07-30 / Opinion

A Penny Untaxed

by Alex McRae

A year ago, when every politician in the U.S. was running for president, all they wanted to talk about was how to (a) get out of Iraq and (b) stop global warming. Twelve months later, all that voters want to hear about is how to stay afloat economically. Gas is $4 bucks a gallon, and the economic picture is so bleak even banks are cutting jobs hand over fist.

Political advisors have noticed, and now Barack Obama and John McCain are promising to do everything in their power to provide voters with cheaper gas and better — or at least, permanent — jobs.

Neither candidate has formulated a sensible program to cure the country's economic ills, but one thing is clear...no matter what "solutions" are proposed, the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

Not surprisingly, not all taxpayers are pleased. Many are tired of bailing out brokerage houses and megabanks and mortgage giants like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, whose collective incompetence created economic earthquakes that will be cleaned up by taxpayers while executives walk away with megamillions in bonuses. But while taxpayers may be pinched, they aren't all stupid. Some figure if they can't get paid millions to leave a business they've bankrupted, they'll find other ways to boost their incomes. And some realize that best way to boost the take home pay is by paying less in taxes.

Or paying none at all. A swell example of this trend toward economic selfsufficiency is taking place in metro Chicago, where a man has saved himself almost $100,000 in taxes by "converting" his house into a church.

Why didn't we all think of this one first? Talk abut the ultimate scam. Just declare your crib a cathedral and sit back and smile as the tax man winces.

At least theoretically.

Chicago's reverend of tax-free worship is Mr. George Michael. Not the singer of hits like "Careless Whispers" and "Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)." This Michael is a Chicago real estate mogul.

Michael owns a home valued at almost $3 million, according to press sources. Once the real estate market went sour, Michael found himself pinched for pocket money. Things got so bad he probably considered junking his Jaguar for a junker. Then he saw the light.

First — according to press reports — he got a pastor's "degree" from an internet divinity school. To prove his piety, he placed a cross on the side of his home. Then, he made a move that seems somewhat contradictory. The 23rd Psalm advises us to "forgive those who trespass against us," but Michael's church must have missed that one, as evidenced by the "No Trespassing" signs that surround the home.

The tactics clearly worked because the State of Illinois granted church status to Michael's mission. The paperwork was so good, state tax investigators apparently never checked the home to see if services were being held.

And so the Armenian Church of Lake Bluff, Illinois, opened for business. And business has been great. For Michael. Once the home received church status, it became tax exempt, saving Michael tens of thousands in property taxes. Things could get even better.

Michael says he converted the home to a church, so his disabled wife and daughter wouldn't have to travel to services.

Not everyone is buying that one.

Officials in the town of Lake Bluff are appealing the house's holy status, and at least one believes that Michael's mansion is no more sanctified than the double-wide down the road.

"It's a honkin' house," said city planning officer Teresa Yakes.

Perhaps. But who are we to judge? In fact, maybe more of us should follow Michael's example and try to "minister" to those nearest us, at least geographically speaking.

I'll be holding services at my place Sunday. Please bring a smile and a taxfree contribution payable to "Alex's Church of the What's Happening Now."

I'll ask the Lord to bless you.

(Send your e-mail comments to: alex@newnan. com)

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