Down East 2013 ©
Maine’s chickadee checkoff may fly away if the legislature’s Taxation Committee flushes it off the roost in the state income tax form where it’s rested since 1984.
A bill ordered up by the Taxation Committee was printed on February 16, with the support of most committee members. It repeals the chickadee and all other voluntary donations now on the Maine income tax form.
The donations made through the chickadee checkoff are dedicated to Maine’s Endangered Species and Nongame Wildlife Fund, and support the work of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W).
Not only is the legislature unwilling to provide the public funding that DIF&W desperately needs, apparently it doesn’t want you to be able to donate to this beleaguered agency either!
Perhaps you are one who uses an income tax checkoff to support the endangered and nongame wildlife fund or one of these other good causes, all of which will be eliminated if LD 1826 is enacted: Maine Children’s Fund, Bone Marrow Screening Fund, the Maine Military Family Relief Fund, Maine Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery Maintenance Fund, Maine Asthma and Lung Disease Research Fund, and Companion Animal Sterilization Fund.
Perhaps if the latter were replaced with a Legislators’ Sterilization Fund, we could close the state budget gap!
When the chickadee checkoff was created in 1983, 33 states already had wildlife donations on their tax forms. We were not exactly plowing new ground. The checkoff started off with great promise, raising $129,122 from 29,900 donors in 1984.
Unfortunately, in 1998, the legislature moved the checkoff from its place on the first page of the state’s income tax form to an obscure spot in a supplemental form. Donations immediately decreased 50 percent. Perhaps that was what legislators were hoping for. At that point in time, they certainly weren’t stepping up to make sure this agency could fulfill its important mission.
In 2001, a special Citizens Advisory Board charged with finding new revenue sources for the perennially underfunded Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, came up with some good ideas and also made a special request that the chickadee checkoff be returned to the main part of the income tax form. Request denied, faster than a chickadee leaves the feeder when a squirrel approaches.
By 2008, only 2,757 donors contributed $34,929 using the chickadee checkoff. But every dollar of that was critical to the department’s work.
Bangor Daily News reporter David Platt got it right in his December 2, 1983 reporting this about the new chickadee checkoff: “It’s designed to correct an imbalance in state wildlife programs, which are weighted heavily toward game species such as deer, waterfowl, and upland game birds.”
All of this weighed on my mind as I headed to the dump last Saturday morning. Headed out of Mount Vernon village up Wells Hill, I stopped quickly to watch a bald eagle soar just above the trees next to Sid Smith’s house.
As the eagle flew around in a small circle beside the road, thrilling me, I could only think about the fact that we were able to bring that bird back from the brink of extinction with the help of a special income tax checkoff that may itself be extinct in a few months.