Bay is loser in battle of tax-form checkoffs Contributions: A new campaign-financing checkoff on the Maryland income tax form has introduced competition for the 8-year-old designation for the Chesapeake Bay fund.

August 02, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A well-intentioned effort at public financing of Maryland elections has had the apparent effect of robbing Green to pay Clean.

Figures released by the state comptroller's office yesterday showed that a new checkoff option on Maryland income tax forms for the Fair Campaign Financing Fund raised $75,942.

That figure almost exactly matched the decline in taxpayers' voluntary contributions to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Trust Fund.

The 8-year-old environmental fund collected $892,270 in fiscal 1996, a drop of $75,087 from the year before.

To Marvin Bond, spokesman for Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, the implication was clear: "The new one robbed the old one."

Bond added an element of I-told-you-so, recalling that his boss had warned legislators that that would be the result before they approved the checkoff for the campaign fund, which made its debut on 1995 tax forms.

Bond said the lesson to be learned from the figures is that loading up the tax form with multiple checkoffs is a counterproductive strategy. "Taxpayers begin to rebel," he said.

The comptroller's office noted that while 2.4 percent of taxpayers contributed to the Chesapeake Bay fund, only 0.5 percent checked the box to give to the campaign fund.

"People are obviously not willing to foot the bill for campaigns," he said.

Bond said the comptroller's office took a neutral position when the General Assembly approved the checkoff for the campaign fund, which provides money for gubernatorial candidates who agree to accept election spending limits.

The Chesapeake Bay checkoff fund has been one of the most successful of its kind in the nation, Bond said, adding that it had grown consistently in recent years until last year's decline.

The bay fund is divided equally between the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Department of Natural Resources.

The trust uses the money to support a variety of bay-related activities, including research and planting of marsh grasses.

The department uses its share for endangered species protection programs.

The checkoff for the campaign fund, strongly backed by Common Cause executive director Deborah Povich, was approved with overwhelming legislative support during the 1995 Assembly session.

Ms. Povich said yesterday that the revenues from the checkoff were disappointing and that the drop in bay contributions was an "unfortunate unintended consequence."

"We will certainly need to bring in more revenue to fully fund candidates for the governor's race," she said. "What we need is a promotional program."

Sen. Arthur Dorman, a Prince George's County Democrat who is chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, said his organization was sorry to see the decline in its revenues, but it would not be a significant burden for the trust.

He expressed more concern about the low level of support for the campaign fund, but he said that he would be willing to give the checkoff at least another year to show whether it can raise more money.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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