Checkoffs would direct taxpayers' refunds to state budget, programs.

DONATE, GOVERNOR SAYS

January 23, 1992|By John W. Frece

Now the governor wants Marylanders to give their money to the state.

Besides asking the General Assembly for millions in new taxes, Gov. William Donald Schaefer today proposed that taxpayers should get the opportunity to donate money beyond what they owe.

Mr. Schaefer's plan calls for three new tax checkoffs to be added to state income tax forms, with the additional money earmarked for crime victims, the arts and programs that help children in trouble.

An aide to the governor said Mr. Schaefer also is likely to support other legislation to add checkoffs for such purposes as reducing the statebudget deficit or directing additional money to primary and secondary schools.

Maryland now has only one tax checkoff, created three years ago to benefit endangered species and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The unexpected success of that checkoff has fueled interest in adding more checkoffs to the state tax forms.

Mr. Schaefer's three additional checkoffs would work the same way as the endangered species and bay checkoff. Taxpayers due refundscould simply ask the state to withhold a portion of the refund and apply it to the two environmental programs. Those who owe taxes could voluntarily contribute more, checking off the program they want the money to benefit.

The new proposal would give the checkoff money to the Children's Trust Fund operated by the Department of Human Resources; to the Maryland Arts Council, which helps artists and promotes the arts; or to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

The compensation board was established to compensate victims of crimes but lost all of its state funds in recent budget reductions.

But Mr. Schaefer and other checkoff proponents already are running into predictable opposition from the state's veteran tax collector, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.

Mr. Goldstein is dead set against the idea, according to Marvin Bond, his spokesman. Not only are checkoffs an an administrative nightmare for tax collectors, Mr. Bond said, the amount of money donated tends to decline as the number of checkoffs expands.

"Taxpayers tend to react in frustration and anger when the [tax] form gets cluttered up with stuff not relevant to taxation," he said.

Mr. Bond noted that Mr. Goldstein's opposition to the latest tax checkoff proposals is part of a longstanding policy. For several years, he opposed Sen. Laurence Levitan's endangered species measure -- which became jokingly known as "the chickadee checkoff."

Mr. Goldstein finally capitulated when the Chesapeake Bay Trust was added. Now he issues press releases noting how successful the checkoff has been.

In three years, it has raised more than $3.1 million, far more than supporters predicted. The number of contributors has grown to 90,000 a year, Mr. Bond said.

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