Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura tried the idea a few years ago, and it proved a bust. If Minnesotans truly supported the Twins in their quest for a new stadium, all they had to do was earmark their state tax refunds for the project.
The idea generated few takers. But it hasn't deterred other state governments from seeking contributions in these times of tight budgets. They all fall under the umbrella of "Tax Me More" funds that rely on donations. Proposals have surfaced in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Arkansas and Alaska.
Sponsors of the legislation rationalize that the weak economy won't support a general tax increase, so relying on donations for worthy causes -- however that is defined -- is the next best option.
The latest initiative was laid out by Oregon Gov. Jeff Coleman, a Republican. Wary that the electorate would be unable to absorb a big tax and bond package, he sought donations. To date, the fund has generated less than $3,000.
Similar initiatives across the country have drawn little interest, said a spokesman with the National Taxpayers Union.
Lawmakers must remember that their responsibilities include deciding what services government must provide, and to figure out how to pay for them. The current economy poses special challenges.
The pitfall of trying to fund fundamental programs and services through donations is obvious. A one-time contribution does not guarantee sustained funding. Even if the money is pledged toward a capital project -- construction of a stadium, for example -- money still is needed for operations.
There are exceptions, to be certain. The chickadee checkoff, which generates money for nonngame wildlife programs, is immensely popular in many states. In Minnesota, the program funds more than 80 conservation projects to help wildlife. The program is funded primarily by people who donate via a checkoff on income tax and property tax forms.
The difference is that while these projects are important to protecting wildlife, they still are considered "extras" and not "essentials" in terms of state programs. They are not part of the everyday line-item budgets.
Legislators should be congratulated for seeking innovative ways to run government. We also recommend they put equal energy into thinking of ways to reduce the size of government rather than finding ways to support an expanding bureaucracy.