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More tax form checkoffs sought for state programs Crime victims' fund among those tagged


ANNAPOLIS -- Higher taxes are not enough. Now the governor wants Marylanders to give their money to the state.

In addition to asking the General Assembly for millions in new taxes, Gov. William Donald Schaefer says he wants taxpayers to get the opportunity to donate money beyond what they owe.

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

"I'm very serious about all this," he said. "I'm pushing as hard as I can, particularly on the one for the arts."

Mr. Schaefer also is likely to support bills by individual legislatorsthat would add other checkoffs to the income tax form, an aide said.

Checkoff bills already introduced call for donations to help eliminate the state budget deficit and to direct additional money to public schools.

Currently, Maryland has only one tax checkoff, created three years ago at the insistence of Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, to benefit endangered species and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The unexpected success of that checkoff has fueled interest in adding more checkoffs.

"I'm really concerned that by expanding it, we'll basically kill what we have, and that bothers me," Mr. Levitan said. "There's no place to stop."

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

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

In addition, such a change would almost certainly mean a larger state income tax form, which Mr. Goldstein -- and taxpayers -- would like to avoid, Mr. Bond said.

Mr. Schaefer's three additional checkoffs would work the same way as the endangered species and bay checkoff. Taxpayers due refunds could 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.

Louisiana at one point had a dozen checkoffs on its form, and it became so cumbersome that the state repealed all of them, Mr. Bond said.

Rhode Island tried a checkoff to raise money for the Olympics but received only $200, and West Virginia asked residents to donate for improvements to the state capital dome and collected only $92, he said.

Mr. Bond noted that Mr. Goldstein's opposition to checkoffs is a long-standing policy. For several years, he opposed Mr. Levitan's endangered species measure -- jokingly referred to as "the chickadee checkoff."

Mr. Goldstein capitulated only after the Chesapeake Bay Trust was added and legislators assured him they would refrain from adding more checkoffs. Now he issues news releases noting how successful the checkoff has become.

The bay checkoff will automatically be eliminated this year unless the General Assembly extends it. In its three years of existence, it has raised more than $3.1 million, far more than supporters predicted. The number of contributors also has grown annually and now exceeds 90,000 a year, Mr. Bond said.

"It comes from people all over the state and in donations ranging up to $1,000," he said.

One of the governor's checkoffs would send money to the Children'sTrust Fund, which is operated by the Office of Children and Youth. The fund awards grants for "developing, assisting, or implementing" child abuse and neglect prevention, treatment or education programs.

Another would earmark contributions for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which was created to compensate victims crimes but lost all of its state funds in recent rounds of budget reductions.

David S. Iannucci, the governor's chief lobbyist, said that Mr. Schaeferbelieves "it is a real tragedy" that funds for crime victims have been chopped. But there isn't likely to be money for the board in the governor's next budget either.

"There are a lot of programs we wish we could put money in the budget for, but in making choices of priorities, not everything could get funded fully," he said.

The remaining checkoff would collect money for the Maryland Arts Council, which helps artists and promotes the arts.

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