This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Joseph Coletti, Fiscal Policy Analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
I tried to help, last summer, when a group on the left released its analysis of the budget bill and said legislators would start their planning this year from the bottom of a billion-dollar hole. I tried to donate money to fill a small part of that hole. What else would a concerned citizen do?
I thought contributing to the state would be easy. After all, the federal government has accepted voluntary contributions since 1843. I never contributed because, as Ronald Reagan said, “I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.” Still, if Michael Moore or Bill Clinton really felt bad about their lower taxes, they could have sent the difference back to the Treasury. Here’s the address if you’re interested:
Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 6D17
Hyattsville, MD 20782
But the state shortfall is another story. According to the state constitution, the governor has to balance the budget each year, and Gov. Easley has his own tax bills to worry about, although I did not know that last summer.
Information on the federal contribution is readily available online, but I could find nothing about how to donate to the state government. I called the Treasurer’s office, and the public affairs people were kind but confused. They sent me to the Department of Revenue. The person who answered the phone at the Department of Revenue said I could write a check, but it would count as taxes paid and any excess would be refunded. He suggested I contact the Office of the Treasurer or the Office of the State Controller.
Two things became clear from this round of phone calls. First, the Treasurer manages the money and distributes it to the Controller after receiving it from the Department of Revenue, which collects money for the state. Second, nobody seemed clear whether the state accepted contributions.
After a few days of civic lessons on the telephone carousel, I decided that the direct approach would work best.
I went, check in hand, to the Treasurer’s office. I asked the security guard where I could contribute money to state government. She laughed, offered to take the check, and showed me to the main reception area. The young man inside the Treasurer’s Office walked all around the first floor but could not find anyone who could take the check. He asked three middle-aged men waiting to meet with someone. None of them had heard of someone willingly ready to give money to the government, but they all agreed that I should try the Department of Revenue.
I went to the window where they take tax payments and asked if I could make a donation to the state to help offset the upcoming deficit. The person behind the glass said the state was not allowed to run a deficit. I explained about the likely gap between available funds and continuation budget spending and said that I really just wanted to help. Again came offers from others behind the counter and in the customer area to take my check. They also asked if I was wealthy enough to bail the state out of a billion-dollar deficit and whether I was running for office. The Revenue staff explained that I would get refunded whatever I contributed beyond my tax liability, so if I really wanted to help the state, I could contribute to a university or a charity.
As I explained my odyssey to friends on the left and right, the reaction was always the same: Why would you give money to the state? One friend on the left said, “Yes, the state needs money and does many good things, but really, who in their right mind is going to pay more than they have to in taxes?”
It is time we find out who would willingly pay more to the state to fund all of the needed programs. In addition to the federal government, six states have a fund that accepts voluntary contributions from citizens, and another 13 states had proposals to establish such a fund in 2006.
Virginia’s experience shows that my friends might be correct. Contributions from July 2002 through June 2006 totaled just $9,048. But North Carolina is a more progressive state than Virginia. Surely, the good citizens of this state will see the good public money brings about in terms of jobs, culture, and education, and decide that government needs more money.