Charities hopeful for kicker check donations


About 1.7 million Oregon residents are set to receive a windfall this December, when the state returns $1.1 billion to taxpayers in the biggest ever refund of surplus income taxes in the state's history.

Now, charities across the state are lining up to benefit from that windfall.

The so called "kicker" checks could trigger $100 million in donations to charities, experts say.

The timing is perfect for nonprofits. Not only is the state putting an average of $612 into taxpayers' pockets, but the checks will arrive during the peak giving season. So groups from the United Way to the Portland Art Museum are mentioning the kicker in their year-end requests for donations.

"It's a huge opportunity for people to give back to the community, and it's a huge opportunity for nonprofits to sharpen their message as to why it's important to support them," Tripp Somerville of the Portland Schools Foundation told The Oregonian newspaper.

Some groups are still preparing their kicker-related efforts. Children First for Oregon, for example, plans to add an Internet site this week called that will ask supporters to not only donate their own kicker but also to encourage family and friends to contribute theirs.

Many groups receive more than half of their annual contributions at the end of the year. Oregonians tend to contribute more to charities when they have more financial resources, says Greg Chaille, who has been president of the Oregon Community Foundation for 21 years. The foundation publishes an annual report on charitable giving in Oregon, which totals more than $1.2 billion a year.

Chaille says he won't be surprised if 10 percent of the more than $1 billion in tax refunds makes its way into charitable donations.

Oregon's one-of-a-kind kicker law, created in 1979, requires the state to send refunds to taxpayers when income tax collections top projections by more than 2 percent. The last time there was a kicker for personal income taxpayers was 2001.

Although this year's checks won't arrive until December, some Oregonians already have donated their kicker. About 13,500 taxpayers checked a box on their 2006 state return donating their kicker to the State School Fund, which pays for school operations.

Those contributions totaled $6.9 million, the state Department of Revenue says.

Despite the potential windfall for them, some nonprofit officials are uncomfortable with the kicker.

"It's problematic that the state continues to have a kicker when there are so many needs going unmet," says David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, an association of 17 Christian denominations.

Government funding has declined for Ecumenical Ministries' food, homeless, HIV/AIDS and refugee programs, making it increasingly reliant on private donations, Leslie says.

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