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Des Moines Democrat proposes income tax check-off with only one beneficiary in mind

Blank Park ZooThe most prolific bill sponsor so far in the Iowa House of Representatives certainly likes to take care of his district.

Last week, state Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) authored a bill, House File 37, to create a new income tax check-off for the Iowa Income Tax. The bill establishes an Iowa Zoo Fund to administered by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to which funds from the check-off will be deposited annually.

The fund is intended to provide grants to “qualified zoos in Iowa” that submit an application for funding. The zoo qualifications are:

  • must be located in the state
  • must not be primarily used for research activities,
  • must be accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the name the American Zoo and Aquarium Association now goes by, there is only one accredited zoo in Iowa: Blank Park Zoo. The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is also AZA accredited, but is not a zoo.

Although the zoo itself is owned by the City of Des Moines, Blank Park Zoo has been under the operation of the non-profit Blank Park Zoo Foundation since 2003. According to its most recent annual report, the zoo operated on a $5.33 million annual budget, with expenses coming in at $5.29 million.

Iowa law only allows for up to four check-offs on the income tax form each year, and requires that the two lowest-receiving check-offs over a two-year period are automatically removed. Currently, the four check-offs on the form are:

  • Child Abuse Prevention Program Fund,
  • Joint Veterans Trust Fund/Volunteer Firefighter Preparedness Fund,
  • Iowa State Fair Foundation, and
  • Fish and Wildlife Fund.

HF 37 would throw the new Iowa Zoo Fund check-off into the mix for placement on the income tax form, if approved. During the 2012 and 2013 tax return years, the Joint Veterans Trust Fund/Volunteer Firefighter Preparedness Fund and the Child Abuse Prevention Program Fund were the two lowest-receiving check-offs, but were reinstated by the General Assembly last year.

The Iowa Society of Certified Public Accountants, the Iowa State Fair, and the Travel Federation of Iowa have all declared they are undecided on the proposed legislation.