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AS CHECKOFF OPTIONS FLOURISH, FUNDS FIZZLE

As you fill out your 1994 state income tax form, keep six things in mind.

Political parties.Non-game wildlife habitat.

The homeless.

School district foundations.

University libraries.

Sick children who need organ transplants.

Each of the above has a checkoff box on the state income tax form. And those interested in each special concern would like your money.

Well, that is, the last five causes listed above want your personal cash.

If you check the political party box, the party of your choice gets $1 in taxpayer funds. The other five causes get how much money you decide to give them - tax free, of course.

As more and more income tax checkoffs are allowed, the number of people giving and the total they give has dropped over the years.

The only exception are donations to pay for sick children's organ transplants. That program has been in effect only since the 1992 tax year. In 1992, 9,670 Utahns donated $53,546 for transplant organ operations. In 1993, 9,224 people gave $55,846; a bit more than the year before.

The $1 political party checkoff doesn't affect your tax refund or tax owed. A check in the box just gives $1 of state general fund money to the party.

The other checkoffs - found on a separate part of the tax return form - do affect your refund or tax owed. "Those are direct contributions by you to that cause," says Janice Perry of the Utah State Tax Commission.

If you are owed a tax refund, how much you contribute to a cause is deducted from the refund. If you owe tax, how much you donate is added to the tax owed, she explained.

Unlike the political party's $1 checkoff, whatever you give to the other causes is tax deductible on your next year's state tax return, she added.

In all categories besides the child organ transplant checkoff, giving has dropped steadily overthe years.

There's no reason for that, tax officials say, except perhaps that people tend to know more about a new tax checkoff because of news media publicity. The child organ checkoff is just 2 years old and still running strong.

However, it appears that Utahns collectively are willing to give about $300,000 via tax return checkoffs. And as more checkoffs are added, the numbers for previous categories drop.

That's clearly seen in 1991. In 1990, the university library and school district foundation check-offs were approved by the Legislature. From 1990 to 1991, the non-game donations dropped from $115,584 to $73,486 and the homeless contributions dropped from $203,292 to $181,830. More checkoffs, more options for those willing to give.

The $1 political party checkoff has been around for years, and for years it's been steadily moving downward, party officials say.

In 1993, the state Republican Party got $35,507, Democrats $23,354, Merrill Cook's Independent Party $3,915, the American Party $1,936, the Independent American Party got $1,987, the Libertarian Party $1,302 and the Populist Party just $13.

The Socialist Workers Party usually has candidates on the Utah ballot. But party officials haven't bothered to go through the public petition process to get their party listed on the ballot, thus they aren't eligible to receive checkoff contributions.

The non-game wildlife habitat checkoff started in 1981 and drew 48,763 people giving $208,513 that year. But by 1993, only 9,548 people gave $58,797. The money is used for "management, preservation, protection and perpetuation of non-game (non-hunted) wildlife species."

The homeless assistance checkoff has been going since 1988, when 38,430 people gave $264,200. The fund has bounced up and down a bit. In 1993, 13,892 people contributed, the smallest number yet. But they gave $143,215, slightly higher than the $138,516 that 15,304 people gave in 1992. The fund is used to help homeless Utahns become self-sufficient.

The public school district foundation checkoff started in 1990. The money is used to "promote partnership activities between schools and communities, fund specific educational programs and provide grant opportunities." In 1990, 9,263 people gave $27,017 via their state income tax returns. In 1993, 4,236 people gave $22,171.

The university library trust fund was also started in 1990. That year 19,621 people gave $43,464. But by 1993, only 4,540 people contributed, giving $23,780.