The Governor Goes Three for Three on Tax Check-offs

Disaster efforts of  California’s chapters of the American Red Cross will have a check-off on state tax forms under legislation signed Oct. 1 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

It’s the third of three measures sent to the Democratic governor to add to the current 18 voluntary contribution categories that have been multiplying since the first was placed on state tax forms in 1983.

The check-off — AB 511 by Assemblyman Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat — will last a maximum of five years but loses its place on the tax form if $250,000 or more contributions aren’t received annually. 

Unknown-3Brown’s signature comes despite questions by both his own fiscal experts and legislative policy analysts over the efficacy of the check-offs.

Out of 15 million taxpayers, only 89,335 used the boxes in 2012 contributing $4.7 million. According to 2008 data compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Californians donated more than $17.2 billion to charities — the most generous of any state and $1 of every $8 donated in the United States.

“In light of the low par ticipation rate among tax filers, and relatively small level of funds contributed through tax check-offs it is not clear that the tax check-off program, as currently administered, is an efficient and effective strategy to connect donors with charitable organizations,” wrote the Senate Governance & Finance Committee in its analyses of all tax check-off  bills introduced this year..

In it’s oppositon to another tax check-off bill signed by Brown, the Demcoratic governor’s Deaprtment of Finance said “there is nothing currently preventing California taxpayers from contributing directly to this cause if they so choose.”

There certainly isn’t.

The annual budget of the San Diego/Imperial County chapter of the Red Cross is $13 million. It’s website notes the February 2012 opening of a new “disaster operations center” paid for with $700,000 in donations.taxes

“This … enables senior Red Cross decision makers and information analysts to seamlessly communicate and collaborate on decisions for collaborative real-time incident planning, service delivery and threat assessment,” the chapter’s website says somewhat redundantly.

The Los Angeles chapter of the Red Cross received $8.7 million in contributions during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, according to the chapter’s 2012 annual report. Nearly $6.1 million came from “corporate, foundation and individual” givers.  

Of the 18 current state tax check-offs, the most contributions received in 2012 was $558,681 for the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program. The Emergency Food for Families Fund, which supports local food banks, received $551,515. 


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