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Report: Millions In State Tax Return Check-Off Donations Never Used For Anything

Photo Credit Thinkstock

Photo Credit Thinkstock

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — More than $14 million from tax return check-offs — most intended for health-related causes such as cancer research — has been sitting in accounts for years without being spent for the intended purposes, the New York State Comptroller’s office reported Wednesday.

New York state residents have contributed more than $51 million to eight possible causes since the state program was created in 1982 initially to support New York’s conservation and wildlife fund, the office said.

From $12 million designated to six funds during the last five years, only $5.1 million, or 43 percent, had been spent through the last fiscal year, the report said.

That included no spending of $2.9 million meant to support prostate cancer research, detection and education and $500,000 intended to support recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.

“New Yorkers are generously giving to causes they care about, but the money is piling up for some funds,” Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. “It is past time to fix the problems that hinder some check-off programs so we can put the money to good use.”

Other check-offs support the maintenance and operation of the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, breast cancer research and education, helping missing and exploited children, Alzheimer’s disease support services and the World Trade Center Memorial Fund.

Designated agencies are responsible for implementing the programs, subject to funding, budget appropriations and state law. Contributions have averaged $1.6 million annually, but the total number of contributions has dropped by more than half, from 344,732 the first full year of the wildlife check-off to 134,665 last year, according to the report.

The dedicated funds can be redirected to the state’s general fund, but the report said that has not happened so far.

Representatives for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment Wednesday.

The comptroller’s office proposed requiring that agencies report annually on their use of check-off funds and publicly justify not spending money, list planned spending in the governor’s annual executive budget and the state’s financial plan, develop policies for funds that lack defined recipients or specific uses and amend the law to drive more prompt uses.

The breast cancer and volunteer firefighter funds require spending money in the year it’s donated “to the extent practicable,” a provision the comptroller said should be extended to the other six programs as well.

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