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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Assembly to debate on religious tax

The government reaffirmed its plan to impose income tax on religious groups, Thursday.

However, the ruling Saenuri Party remains cautious about introducing the "religious tax" because it could draw protests, party officials said.

The plan was included in the draft of a tax code revision, unveiled by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance following a policy coordination meeting with the ruling party.

"Though the government wants to tax religious groups, the party believes it should consider this move very carefully," Kim Jung-hoon, the party's chief policymaker, told reporters after the meeting. "We will look into the plan closely ahead of a plenary session at the National Assembly."

Initially, the ministry planned to apply a four percent tax rate on religious leaders' income, excluding expenses. However, the ministry has added measures to ensure that more of those earning an income will pay higher taxes.

If the revision is enacted, all temples and churches must report their income every year.

There has been an argument for taxing monks and clergymen for decades, but little progress has been made due to the sensitivity of the issue.

In fact, the plan for religious taxation has stalled for 47 years. Lee Nak-sun, the first director of the National Tax Service, planned to levy a tax on religious groups in 1968, but to no avail.

The finance ministry devised a similar plan in 2014, but faced with opposition by religious institutions, the Assembly backed down.

Now the government has weighed up the option of levying a tax on religious groups, with public sentiment generally supportive of the idea.

A poll last year conducted by Mono Research showed a big lead for yes on religious taxation with 75.3 percent of 1,000 respondents.

However, it is still unclear if religious taxation will be implemented as some lawmakers are showing caution ahead of next April's general elections.

The National Assembly is expected to reach a conclusion during the next plenary session scheduled in September.

Vice Finance Minister Joo Hyung-hwan has vowed to push for the measure, however.

"We can't postpone it anymore, considering public opinion," he said. "The Assembly will make an all-out effort to pass the revision by persuading both the government and the religious institutions."

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