Public Policy Group Advocates for Change

The public policy committee from Komen Columbus meets every month via conference call to discuss legislation affecting breast cancer in Ohio. Volunteers are asked to help advocate for positive government reforms with elected officials and get involved when important legislation is being discussed. Recently members shared news about an update we might soon see on tax reforms. Read the full article below, and visit http://www.komenadvocacy.org to get involved with this important group.

Groups vie for boost from tax-form checkoff
December 19, 2010
By Julie Carr Smyth
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-form 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 as varied as cancer, wildlife, veterans and even schools.

Three checkoffs 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 that he must present by mid-March, despite an estimated $8 billion budget gap. That means deep cuts ahead, even to state programs such as such as social services, prisons, public schools and universities.

For relatively smaller programs, such as the Ohio Breast and Cervical Cancer Project, funding could disappear. The first pot of state funding for that program — $5 million for the two-year period that began in July 2007 — was already cut to $1.6 million for the current 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.

“But here you are, fourth in the nation in mortality (from breast cancer), and you’re going to cut funding? It’s tragic, it really is.”

The Komen organization estimates it could raise $300,000 to $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 might depend on the competition — which is steep.

In May, so many tax checkoffs were surfacing that Tax Commissioner Richard Levin cautioned lawmakers about approving too many, noting that lengthening the list might thin taxpayers’ donations to the programs as they spread their contributions.

Ohio Department of Taxation spokesman John Kohlstrand said taxpayers with the smallest refunds — say, $2 or $3 — are often the ones who participate.

Each of the three existing checkoffs was chosen by more than 41,000 taxpayers in 2009.

In 2008, those taxpayers donated a combined $1.4 million out of the roughly $1.5 billion in refunds the state paid.

Looming competition over checkoffs hasn’t stopped advocates around the Statehouse.

The Ohio Historical Society has lobbied for five years for a tax checkoff — not for its budget, but to fund a matching-grant program for local historical organizations. And the society intends to try again in the next legislative session. The checkoff could generate an estimated $200,000, said lobbyist Todd Kleismit.

Although the Ohio Historical Society is not a government agency, it is a nonprofit corporation with state responsibilities such as archiving public records and maintaining the state library.

Some legislators balk at giving checkoff status to a nonprofit group because they fear its operations wouldn’t be as accountable to the public.

That argument also has come up in debate over other cash-strapped nonprofits that work hand in hand with state government, such as the Red Cross or the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.

State Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, said the breast-cancer checkoff is run through the Ohio Department of Health and has all the necessary checks and balances. He plans to pursue the proposal when he returns to the state House next year.

“I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution, but certainly it will help maintain this valuable program that helps the underserved population and those that have no health-care benefit at all, those who are most at risk,” he said.

Michael Farley, a lobbyist for the Red Cross, said he doesn’t begrudge any group that seeks a checkoff. But he believes the Red Cross, a nonprofit that doesn’t receive state funding, has a legitimate argument for one, given its response to emergencies and disasters and its other efforts.

“If we didn’t perform the services we do, the state would have to support them,” he said.

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