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Other causes outpace Olympics for revenue in Massachusetts

BOSTON – While city and state officials have given voice to safeguarding public coffers from the Olympics effort, state taxpayers and motorists have for years taken advantage of opportunities to channel their dollars to Team USA.

Taxpayers filing tax returns can throw in some extra dollars for the Olympics and drivers can opt to pay an additional fee to display their Olympic pride on their bumper. In both cases, the money collected is routed to the US Olympic Committee, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

But the Olympic license plates on the road trail in popularity against the states most ubiquitous specialty plates – promoting Cape Cod and the environment. And the $889,346 collected in Olympic fundraising via tax forms over the past decade has also lagged against the other funds that receive donations via tax returns.

In just one quarter of fundraising, Olympics booster Boston 2024 has eclipsed receipts from both funds since their inception close to 20 years ago. Boston 2024 reported $2.8 million in contributions in the first quarter of 2015.

Since 1996, the law steering specialty plate and tax-checkoff revenues from Massachusetts to the Olympics has generated $1.5 million, according to Mark Jones, senior director of communications for the US Olympic Committee. Massachusetts is one of 18 states with a specialty plate and one of 10 states with a tax check-off, he said.

From 1996-2015, a similar tax checkoff program in Virginia netted the US Olympic Committee $549,777, and over the same period in Delaware the committee took in $100,279 from the same type of program, Jones told the News Service. Bay State taxpayers contributed more than those two states combined in half the time.

Donations, which include direct contributions along with state tax check-offs and license plate programs, account for about 20 percent of the committees revenue, with the lions share of committee money tied to broadcasting and sponsorships, according to Jones.

Leading up to a September deadline for the committee to submit a 2024 summer Olympics city to the International Olympic Committee, local Olympics boosters are travelling around the state, hoping to drum up support for a Boston-based bid to host the games, though polling on the topic has been lukewarm and opposition has been strident against the idea.

The Olympic license plate and tax check-off law was signed by Gov. William Weld in November 1995, roughly half a year before Atlanta hosted the Summer Games on the centennial anniversary of the first modern Olympics.

State tax forms allow for donations to six causes – ranging from wildlife conservation to AIDS research and education to assisting residents with the cost of organ transplants. Contributions to the Olympics via tax forms pale against the other causes, especially aid for active duty military reservists and National Guard soldiers and help vaccinating and sterilizing homeless animals, which have been the two most popular in recent years.

That dynamic has been consistent. Of the five funds that date back to at least fiscal 2010, the Olympic tax checkoff has accounted for only 8 percent of the combined $3.5 million in revenues they have generated.

Drivers, too, have been less likely to choose the Olympics plates than many of the other offerings.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, 818 passenger vehicles have specialty Olympics plates out of 2,573,796 standard passenger vehicles registered in Massachusetts.

The Cape and Islands plates, meanwhile, can be seen on 43,285 vehicles.

The Olympics plates have brought in less annual revenue than plates that promote and benefit the environment, veteran homes, and alternatives to abortion for unwanted pregnancies. The Olympic plates have brought in more annual revenue than license plates promoting the Basketball Hall of Fame and less revenue than plates promoting the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics.

The Olympics plates cost $50 every two years on top of the $60 registration, and $16 of that goes toward the one-time cost of manufacturing it.

There may be a silver lining for those rooting for the Olympic spirt to catch on in Massachusetts.

Fiscal 2014, which ended before Boston was selected to represent the nation in the bidding for the games, was the best year for Olympic-plate revenue since before the Great Recession.

And through April of fiscal 2015, the tax check-off is ahead of all but one fund in achieving its estimated total for the fiscal year ending in June. The Olympics fund was tied with the fund helping people with organ transplants.

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