Italians pay for research with taxes

This year, taxpayers in Italy have the option of donating 5 euros to research for every 1,000 euros owed

By | May 30, 2006

For the first time, Italians have the option of donating money for research when they file their 2005 taxes at the end of June. The new bill has sparked mixed reactions among Italian scientists, some of whom expressed concerns that the initiative is not well organized, and the money will be spread too thinly among too many institutions. At the end of last year, the Italian government approved the 2006 financial bill, which introduced the so-called "5x1000." Starting with last year's returns, Italians have the option of donating 5 euros to Italian research institutions and non-profit foundations out of every 1,000 euros they owe in taxes. Currently, Italy invests only 0.9% of its gross national product in research, about half the European average. The new bill resembles the "8x1000" law in place since 1985, which lets Italians donate 8 euros for every 1,000 euros owed to either the Church or publicly-funded social activities. However, only 40% of Italians give money under the 8x1000 law, leaving 22 million taxpayers who choose not to donate to either. Among the people who choose to donate, the vast majority designate their tax dollars to the Catholic Church and other religious congregations. Still, lawmakers estimate that the new 5x1000 research bill could channel between 270 and 660 million euros to research institutions and non-profit foundations. The Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI) says on its Web site that the 5x1000 law could have a positive effect on funding for fellowships for young researchers, where many institutions have decided to earmark the extra funds. However, not all scientists and lawmakers are happy with the bill. Almost 30,000 distinct entities are eligible to claim a portion of the money donated to research under the 5x1000 bill, given that the category includes institutes of health, voluntary associations, and city councils involved in social work. As a consequence, both the National Research Council and a day care in Milan are equally eligible for taxpayer funds, running the risk that the amount given to each entity will be insignificant. "As it stands, the total outcome will be quite diluted, " Silvio Garattini, director of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, told The Scientist. Indeed, if taxpayers donate the predicted 270 and 660 million euros to research institutions and non-profit foundations and the money is divided equally among the 30,000 eligible recipients, each body could receive between 9,000 and 22,000 euros -- a number too small to make a significant difference to most institutions, experts say. The new 5x1000 bill is also temporary, and Giuseppe Ciliberto, press attaché of Agenzia delle Entrate, Italy's national tax collecting agency that's linked to the Economy and Finances Ministry, noted the bill is an experiment that may not make it into the next financial bill, which is approved every year in December. "We cannot foresee what is going to be next year," he said. Journalist and social activist Vincenzo Mellano, meanwhile, argued that it makes more sense to allow citizens to donate money to research within the 8x1000 provision, which doesn't have the same temporary status as the 5x1000. Mellano is currently collecting signatures for a petition to draft a law that would make 8x1000 apply only to research. "5x1000 is misleading and disturbs our petition," Mellano told The Scientist. Angelo Maramai, financial director of the Telethon Foundation, the biggest non-profit Italian organization involved in basic research funding, is not optimistic about 5x1000's impact on research. "The poor situation of our science does not need the kind of experiments such as 5x1000 or 8x1000," he said. Marta Paterlini Links within this article M. Paterlini, "Italian academics protest reforms," The Scientist, December 5, 2005. Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI) Silvio Garattini R. Lorenzi, "Italy faces embryo referendum," The Scientist, June 2, 2005. Agenzia delle entrate Vincenzo Mellano Telethon Foundation

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