The Senate narrowly approved and sent to the Assembly on Friday a bill that would enable state income taxpayers to contribute part of their refunds to help finance research into Alzheimer's disease.
Gov. George Deukmejian earlier in the year called for such legislation as part of his "Seniors' Initiative" program.
The bill, however, drew criticism from advocates of simplified state income tax forms, who charged that the addition of another special checkoff box would further complicate the form. Others asserted that such research should be financed by funds appropriated by the state budget and not the tax system.
Sen. Henry Mello (D-Watsonville), the author and a legislative champion of senior citizen issues, insisted during debate that state efforts to fight the disease fell far short of the need. He said he was scrambling to find every dollar he could to finance the fight against Alzheimer's, a progressive brain disorder that causes gradual memory loss, disorientation, personality change and loss of language skills.
'Al Capone Foundation'
"I'm at the point now where I'm willing to accept money from the (fictitious) Al Capone Foundation," he said.
The proposal went to the Assembly on a 27-7 vote, the exact two-thirds majority required.
Under the bill, a state income taxpayer due a refund would be able to check off a box on the 1987 tax year form to designate a sum for Alzheimer's research. Currently, the return contains checkoffs for protection of endangered species, financing election campaigns, prevention of child abuse, support of the U.S. Olympic Committee Fund and funding for the California Senior Legislature.
But Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), who ended up voting for the bill, and Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) argued that while the goal of the measure was laudable, it flew in the face of efforts to simplify state tax returns and conform them to those of the federal government.
Could Wind Up With 120
Noting the five checkoff boxes on the current tax form, Hart suggested that if efforts such as Mello's continue, "We are going to have 120 checkoffs because there are 120 legislators and everybody wants their pet projects funded."
Lockyer said existing checkoffs tend to be "faddish" and "once you create these little boxes they almost never go away. Somebody has to start saying that this process does not make sense."
A supporter, Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose), suggested that research into the illness ought to have as high a priority on the tax return as protection of endangered animals and birds.
Mello pointed out that the Legislature's version of the state budget contains $25 million for Alzheimer's research, but expressed concern that Deukmejian may reduce the sum with a line-item veto. Deukmejian embraced the checkoff for research into Alzheimer's disease in his budget proposal last January.
Mello indicated that if Deukmejian left intact the money in the budget, he would abandon the checkoff bill.