Capitol Alert: California bill would revamp tax checkoff program

jmiller@sacbee.comApril 14, 2014 

Californians rushing to wrap up their taxes for 2013 can choose from 20 charitable causes to support on their state tax forms.

From sea otters to the California Senior Legislature, voluntary tax form contributions raised about $4.8 million in 2012. More than $102 million has been donated through the program since it began in 1982.

Yet getting on the tax form in the first place requires state legislation, which can cost thousands of dollars in lobbying expenses. Even then, causes and charities regularly drop off the tax form because they fail to meet the state's $250,000 threshold.

Pending legislation would revamp the progrm, with the goal of making it fairer and allowing more charities to tap into taxpayers' charitable impulses.

Senate Bill 1207 by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require charitable organizations to meet certain standards before they could qualify for tax checkoffs. California Volunteers, a state office, would oversee the new program and, along with the Franchise Tax Board, work out its details by 2017, under the measure.

Wolk's bill passed the Wolk-led Senate Governance and Finance Committee last week with bipartisan support.

"We think we can do better and allow more access to the system," Wolk said. The California Association of Nonprofits is among the legislation's supporters.

The bill is opposed by the California Association of Food Banks and California Professional Firefighters. Both participate in efforts that receive money from existing tax checkoffs.

"The hard reality is, you know, the more that are on the list, the more the revenues are shared," said Christy Bouma, a lobbyist for the firefighters union.

Even as lawmakers consider Wolk's measure, there are proposals to increase the number of tax checkoffs for the 2014 tax year. The groups include Habit for Humanity (AB 1765), the Pet Adoption Cost Deduction Fund (AB 2326), and the California Sexual Violence Victim Services Fund (SB 782).

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