Donations soar via hometown tax break

Tsunami-hit prefectures rake in ¥335 million since March 11

Kyodo

Donations to local governments via a tax incentive that encourages people to contribute to their hometowns while living elsewhere have soared in the three months since the March 11 earthquake, totaling about ¥335.2 million in the three most hard-hit prefectures, according to a Kyodo News tally.

The amount received by the prefectural governments of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi through the hometown tax system between March 11 and June 10 was about 95 times that of the ¥3.5 million logged in the whole of fiscal 2009. The grand total would likely be even higher if the tally included amounts received at municipal levels.

The “furusato nozei” scheme enables taxpayers to donate money to any specific prefectural or municipal government and receive in exchange, in most circumstances, almost an equivalent deduction in their resident and income taxes. Introduced in May 2008, it was aimed to divert tax payments from urban areas to the financially strapped rural countryside.

“We never imagined this much (money) would be raised,” a Fukushima prefectural official said. “We would like to make good use of (the donations) for reconstruction.”

The Iwate government earmarked ¥35 million of the donations for a newly established fund to support children who lost their parents in the March disaster.

Tea radiation limit plea

KYODO

The governor of Shizuoka Prefecture, a major tea leaf production area, urged the health minister Thursday to revise the provisional limit for radioactive substances in the product.

During a meeting with health minister Ritsuo Hosokawa, Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu said the current maximum radiation limit for tea leaves is unreasonable and that a recent test showed the area’s tea leaves and processed tea are safe.

The government’s provisional limit for radioactive substances in tea products is 500 becquerels per kilogram.

Hosokawa promised to make the results public and check the limit’s validity.

The survey was conducted under orders from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

“The government applied the limit set for foods to tea, 95 percent of which is used for drinking. That was the cause of the confusion,” Kawakatsu said. “Confusion and anger are swirling in the tea industry in our prefecture.”

After fresh tea leaves are dried and turned into tea products, their radiation density naturally rises. Under the government’s standard, many of those products could have been banned from shipment.

Shizuoka tea was once found unsafe under the provisional radiation limit, and prefectural and other authorities in tea producing areas have been questioning its validity.