Americans, and Utahns in particular, are giving less money these days to political parties and presidential elections via the check-off boxes on their state and federal income tax returns.
With the April 15 tax filing deadline approaching, state and national officials are hoping that citizens will get with the giving program. Otherwise, they say, the election and political processes will suffer.Utahns have been giving less and less to the Utah Republican and Democratic parties for most of the 1980s, party officials say.
"We saw a peak in 1980, when we got almost $100,000 through the Check-A-Buck program," said Gregg Hopkins, executive director of the State Republican Party. According to the State Tax Commission, in 1989, the Republicans got only about $45,000, half of which is shared by the state party with each of the 29 county Republican parties.
The Democrats, the minority party in Utah, traditionally lag behind the Republicans. In 1989, the Democrats got about $30,000, down from a high of about $60,000 in the late 1970s.
Both groups blame, among other things, the proliferation of check-off boxes on the state income tax returns and general confusion about the political check-offs.
Checking the presidential campaign fund box on the federal return allocates $1 of the tax you pay to the fund. Checking the box does not increase your tax, nor subtract a dollar from your federal income tax refund check. In short, it costs you nothing.
That's true also with checking the political party box on your state income tax return. Checking the box allocates $1 to the party of your choice, but it doesn't cost you a $1. One dollar of the tax you pay goes to the party.
However, there are four other check-off boxes on the state income tax return. Checking those boxes does cost you money.
Lines 11, 12, 13 and 14 on the state return list the following check-offs: Non-game wildlife fund, $1 minimum to whatever amount you want to give; aid for the homeless, $1 to whatever you wish to give; support of the library of the state college or university of your choice, $1 to whatever you wish to give; and a contribution to the non-profit public education foundation for whichever school district you wish to support, $1 minimum to whatever you wish to give.
"The other check-offs confuse and discourage giving to the political parties," said James Roberts, Democratic Party state executive director. "We believe they hurt us."
Janice Perry, State Tax Commission spokeswoman, says the commission tries to make the tax form as clear as possible. The party check-off is at the first of the form, before income computations even begin, clearly showing checking the box doesn't cost the taxpayer any money. The other check-offs clearly show that the taxpayer is donating money to those causes, she said.
Hopkins and Roberts say there are other reasons for the drop off, however. Many Utahns don't think of themselves as belonging to a political party, so don't feel like giving to the parties. Others prefer supporting specific candidates, not parties.
In an Associated Press study, Utahns rank near the bottom in their per capita giving to the presidential campaign funds via the federal income tax check-off box. In 1989, Utahns earmarked $125,448 of their tax payments toward the fund, which is allocated to qualified presidential candidates every four years. Only about 20 percent of Utah taxpayers checked the presidential campaign support fund, the Associated Press reported.
The presidential fund is running low and money will likely run out in the 1992 campaign unless Congress appropriates general tax dollars to help it out, officials estimate.
Fewer checks; less dough
Utahns showed a steady decline during the 1980s in their eagerness to mark the tax return check-off boxes that earmark $1 of their tax money for the political parties of their choice.
YEAR GOP DEMO
1980 $98,751 $52,656
1985 81,081 55,538
1986 69,527 54,887
1987 50,253 39,894
1988 45,220 29,427
1989 44,975 31,929