Goldstein puts his money on targeted state lotteries Comptroller opposes adding tax checkoffs

January 25, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- No one asked Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein what he thought about proposals to include new income tax checkoffs on the state's tax forms.

So Mr. Goldstein decided not to ask anyone what they thought about his plan to raise money for the state -- a series of dedicated state lotteries. He just showed up yesterday and made his pitch.

You could pick your cause, then pick your numbers, Mr. Goldstein suggested, as he floated the proposal before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

"Schools. Crime victims. Homeless. People with AIDS," Mr. Goldstein said, ticking off the list of special interests that could dip into the dedicated lottery pot. "Everybody has a pet project. That's the American way."

But Gov. William Donald Schaefer's way, as he detailed Thursday, is to add three new checkoffs to the state income tax form.

That's in addition to the existing box for those who want to contribute to endangered species and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

The governor wants to add boxes for the Children's Trust Fund, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the Maryland Arts Council. And he's not the only one. Two more bills in the hopper would provide checkoffs for public schools, and another bill, which brought Mr. Goldstein to the Senate yesterday, would allow taxpayers to ante up for any government service they liked.

"In simple language, it's pay up or shut up," said the bill's sponsor, James C. Simpson, D-Charles, who opposes all tax increases the legislature is considering.

Mr. Simpson said that the arguments Mr. Goldstein used to argue against his bill are similar to those the comptroller used to fight the current checkoff for endangered species and the Chesapeake Bay.

While Mr. Goldstein did fight the so-called "chickadee checkoff" when it came before the legislature three years ago, he has become a convert to the cause.

In fact, after testifying against Mr. Simpson's bill yesterday, the comptroller urged the Senate committee to extend the current checkoff program, which will expire this year without a General Assembly vote.

Over the past three years, the checkoff has raised $3.1 million, exceeding its supporters' expectations.

But Mr. Goldstein argued that that the pool of people who donate is static, which means that new checkoffs would simply dilute the bay fund. Mr. Simpson's plan also comes with a price tag, according to the Department of Fiscal Services.

The start-up costs are estimated at $213,000, while the existing program will cost only $15,000 to continue.

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