@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Posted May 19, 2011 9:03 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2011 3:39 p.m. EDT

House Republicans have come up with a new way to pay for state government services: Charity.

A new proposal in the House Government committee would give North Carolinians a check-off on their tax forms – and maybe a website, too – to donate money to state agencies and programs they care about.

The measure, H877, would add a check-off on state tax forms for taxpayers to donate money to one of six areas: the Departments of Cultural Resources, Health and Human Services, Public Instruction, and Public Safety, plus the state’s General Fund and UNC. (Notably, Environment and Natural Resources, a favorite target of the new leadership, failed to make the short list.)

Republicans say voters gave them a mandate to cut taxes. But recent polls show that’s not precisely the case in the current budget crisis. Bill sponsor Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, says a donation program would let people decide how much imperiled programs are worth.

“There’s no better poll on how people feel about a subject than where they put their money,” Folwell said. “It would be a strong indication of how people really feel about what a penny means in terms of their sales taxes, their income taxes.”

“In every other aspect of our lives, there’s opportunities for people to donate - except this one,” Folwell said. “It empowers people. It pushes the power away from this town, and back down to the people who truly feel the urge that, if they’re not taxed enough, that they can donate more.”

Watch our short interview with Folwell at right.

Quite a few states have tax form check-offs or other programs that allow them to donate to specific funds, like state fairgrounds, National Guard, or school construction. Folwell’s measure would offer much bigger targets – too large, critics say, to give donors the power to earmark money for specific areas they care about.

“For example, do you want your money to go to an area that provides more prisons for people who are in prison who look like me?” asked Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford. “I wouldn’t want my money to go there, necessarily. But would you want your money to go someplace like the School of the Arts?”

“My concern also would be, is this going to be a substitute for what [the state budget] ought to be doing?" she asked. "I think we need to have some more discussion about it.”

“We rush too many things down here. We have a good idea, and it’s not completely thought through,” Adams said. “And I don’t think that’s the way we should be doing the people’s business.” 

Watch our short interview with Adams at right.

Folwell says there are a lot of changes to come for his bill, including a website that would allow more specific targets for donations. But that’ll all have to be ironed out on the floor. It was approved in House Government today, and is scheduled for a full House vote Monday night.