Tax Checkoffs That Hurt

January 28, 1992

The concept of a voluntary checkoff box on your state income tax form to help some worthy cause is a commendable idea. In just three years, it has yielded an unexpected bonanza ($3.1 million) for the Chesapeake Bay Trust and demonstrated the widespread commitment to environmental do-goodism among 90,000 Maryland taxpayers. Why tinker with success?

Yet that's exactly what Gov. William Donald Schaefer and some legislators have in mind. If environmentally concerned taxpayers are eager to pay extra money to help endangered species, why not apply the same concept to the Children's Trust Fund, the Maryland Arts Council and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board?

Those are the governor's three favorites for new income-tax checkoff boxes; other legislators also want to add checkoffs to support public schools or to aid the government service of your choice.

By the time all is said and done, Maryland could have so many checkoffs on its income-tax form that none of them will receive much taxpayer support. The governor ought to look closely at what happened in Louisiana, for instance, where that state once had 12 checkoffs. They were a flop and Louisiana lawmakers eventually repealed all the checkoffs. In Rhode Island, legislators tried a checkoff to aid the Olympics. The amount raised: $200. West Virginia had even worse luck trying to gain voluntary contributions at tax time to repair the state capital dome: only $92 raised.

Could added voluntary checkoffs on your Maryland income-tax form dilute the success of the environmental program known as the "chickadee checkoff"? That is a troubling possibility. In fact, there is no assurance that the new checkoffs would even raise enough money to justify the cost of collecting and distributing the money.

Legislators ought to give the governor's idea a polite hearing and then consign it to summer study. There are too many potential pitfalls in this concept. It could end up damaging a worthwhile and successful voluntary financial aid program for endangered species and the Chesapeake Bay. We are sure that's not what the governor had in mind. Let's not ruin a good thing.

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