We can’t help but wonder how the state attorney general’s office, which every year publishes a report on how much or how little of the money New Yorkers donate to charity actually reaches its intended targets, would react to news that the state has itself been keeping much of the money collected through its tax check-off program from intended targets.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers attempt to donate part of their tax refund for such worthy charitable causes as breast or prostate cancer research, Alzheimer’s disease support services, recruitment of volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel and the World Trade Center Memorial Fund. Collectively, they’ve given $51 million through various check-offs since the program began more than 30 years ago, in support of New York’s conservation and wildlife fund.
While most of that money has been distributed where it belonged, something went awry in the last five years: Some $7 million of roughly $12 million collected is still sitting in state coffers, according to the report by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The only thing more inexcusable would be if the state had diverted the money to its general fund — which it apparently is entitled to do.
The comptroller’s office has proposed some fixes — requiring agencies to report every year on how the check-off funds get used, providing justification when they are not spent, listing planned expenditures in the state budget, etc.
We have a better idea: The state should extricate itself from the fundraising business entirely. It doesn’t raise a lot of money, anyway, so it barely seems worth the trouble or expense.
If taxpayers (or anyone else) wants to donate to charity, they can do so without the state’s (dubious) assistance — but they should check with the attorney general’s “Pennies for Charities” report first.