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California taxpayers can once again donate to arts ed via tax forms

originally posted by the Los Angeles Times
October 1, 2013

California taxpayers who want to donate to arts education in the public schools will again be able to do so by checking off a box on income tax forms starting with the returns they’ll be filing next year to pay state taxes on their 2013 earnings.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the tax checkoff back into law Monday, after a similar program had lapsed after failing to bring in the annual minimum of $250,000 in donations needed for it to remain on tax forms.

The program is administered by the California Arts Council, which learned an object lesson in 2011 and 2012, when checkoffs brought in $164,298 and $165,647, respectively, for the 2010 and 2011 tax years.

Back then, the label on the box was “Arts Council Fund,” which presumed that taxpayers favorably disposed toward the arts would know what that meant.

The new label, “Keep Arts in Schools Fund,” more or less speaks for itself. The minimum contribution is $1, which donors can add to a tax payment, or subtract from a tax refund.

Another difference in the new law is that the money can be used only for education programs in preschool through 12th grade, instead of the full gamut of grants overseen by the California Arts Council.

The bill Brown signed specifies that no money can go to the Arts Council’s staff salaries or administrative overhead; it will be funneled directly to “individuals or organizations administering arts programs for children.”

“With the improved fund name and designation of all contributions to support arts education in California communities, the `Keep Arts in Schools Fund’ is sure to succeed in bringing much-needed support to arts education in the state,” Craig Watson, the Arts Council’s director, said in an announcement that the governor had signed the tax checkoff into law.

The law, introduced by former Sen. Curren Price Jr. before he was elected in May to the Los Angeles City Council, then carried by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), authorizes a five-year stay on tax forms for the arts education checkoff box, for tax years 2013 through 2017.

In its start-up year it’s excused from having to meet the $250,000 minimum, which will kick in for payments received in 2015 for the 2014 tax year. After that, the annual minimum rises in line with the state’s inflation rate.

The California Arts Council’s biggest revenue source is another form of donation: more than $2 million a year that comes in $40 and $50 annual infusions from motorists who opt to renew or buy special arts license plates.

A legislative effort to guarantee a higher level of taxpayer funding — now about $1 million a year — fell short this year, but the agency, which long has ranked last nationally in per capita funding, did receive a one-time infusion of $2 million from Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles). Perez tapped public funds that he’s empowered to spend at his own discretion.

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