Check-off boxes on tax returns raise money for Oklahoma causes

Monday, April 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma taxpayers gave more than $210,000 to state causes by checking boxes on their 2000 tax returns, the Oklahoma Tax Commission said.

More than $32,000 went to the Oklahoma City National Memorial last year, the first year Oklahomans were given the option of giving part of their tax refunds to the memorial.

Oklahomans will have another chance Monday _ the April 15 deadline to file 2001 tax returns _ to donate to the memorial or the five other ``check-off'' causes listed on state tax forms.

It took two years for lawmakers to put the memorial on the list of check-off charities, memorial Executive Director Kari Watkins said.

``It was a way to raise money and allow every person to donate something and feel good about trying to help the memorial,'' Watkins said.

The $32,000 will help with operation and maintenance of the memorial. It will make up less than 2 percent of the memorial's $2.5 million operating budget.

In addition to the memorial, taxpayers can choose to donate to wildlife diversity, low-income health care, the state breast cancer program, veterans affairs capital improvements or organ donor education.

In 1993, combined check-off donations to the only two tax form charities on state forms then _ wildlife and indigent health care _ totaled $172,000 a year, about the same amount donated to all four check-off charities on forms in 1999.

Rep. Susan Winchester, R-Chickasha, authored the bill that allowed Oklahomans to donate money to the memorial through their tax returns.

Winchester's sister, a veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Winchester's bill contains a provision to keep the check-offs from getting crowded.

If any check-off charity fails three years in a row to get at least $15,000 in donations, it will be removed from tax forms.

``I'm excited we've met and exceeded that,'' Winchester said of the memorial's tax donations.

The memorial receives no government funds. It gets most of its income from admission fees and gift shop sales at the museum.

About $50,000 a year also comes from visitors who drop contributions into boxes under the Survivor Tree and at the entrance to the museum.