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Cash-strapped charities hope taxpayers prove to be generous

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Associated Press


Ohioans won’t be forced to pay higher taxes if Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich’s promises hold true. But could they be persuaded to pay more by choice?

The voluntary income-tax checkoff — where taxpayers donate a portion of their anticipated refund to a good cause — has become a carefully studied option for cash-strapped groups bracing for the most painful budget in recent Ohio memory.

The same is the case in other states, where lawmakers are considering the voluntary rather than forced tax option for causes from cancer and wildlife, to veterans and even schools.

Three checkoffs now appear on Ohioans’ tax forms, for military injury relief, endangered wildlife and natural areas and preserves. If backers are successful next year, more could be on the way.

Kasich has pledged to support a planned income tax cut in the two-year budget he must present by mid-March, despite an estimated $8 billion budget gap. That means deep cuts ahead even to vital state programs, such as social services, prisons, public schools and universities.

For relatively smaller programs, such as the Ohio Breast and Cervical Cancer Project, money could dry up altogether. The first pot of state funding for that program — $5 million for the two years beginning in July 2007 — was already cut to $1.6 million during the last budget cycle.

“Believe me, we understand this whole budget deal. We’re trying to work within the confines that are out there,” said Pam Mascio, advocacy chair for the Northeast Ohio Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The Komen organization estimates it could raise from $300,000 and $600,000 a year from taxpayers willing to support its screening and biopsy program through a checkoff. At $90 for a mammogram and $125 for a biopsy, that’s a lot of money.

The amount the group could raise may depend on the competition — which is steep.