Girl Scouts foil effort to give tax break only to Boy Scouts donors

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SALT LAKE CITY - Girl Scouts may sell cookies and look innocent. But they proved to be tough-as-nails political fighters Tuesday -- killing, for now, a Utah legislative move that would have created a new tax-form check-off that was designed to help only the Boy Scouts.

State House Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, sponsor of the measure and a scoutmaster in Boy Scouts, vowed to try to revive it later by amending his bill to also benefit the Girl Scouts and possibly other youth groups.

Eliason already passed his bill through the House, but said in debate there only that any youth group meeting criteria in his bill would split money donated to a new "Youth Development Organization" fund. Taxpayers could check a box on forms to donate any amount they wish to it.

But the bill would only give to youth groups that have at least 180,000 members in the state -- which happens to be how many Boy Scouts are in traditional units in Utah, according to information Scout councils provided to The Tribune in 2011. Girl Scouts membership is about 6,000.

Boy Scouts are the largest youth group in the state by far, with most Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' congregations sponsoring units.

After the earlier House vote, Eliason acknowledged that his bill was designed so that the fund would benefit only the Boy Scouts -- and news stories about that appeared.

But the Girl Scouts showed up Tuesday to fight the bill as it appeared before the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. Tuesday also happened to be "Girl Scout Day" at the Legislature, when young Girl Scouts distributed boxes of cookies to lawmakers.

Cathleen Sparrow, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Utah, testified that it was unfortunate that as the bill was written, "No one thought about girls and Girl Scouting," and said senators should "recognize the inherent inequality in this bill."

Eliason said if the committee passed his bill, he would consider bringing an amendment to the Senate floor to create a separate check-off for Girl Scouts. He said the difference in their memberships may make it tough to combine both groups without including many others as well. He said each group also tends to have different donor bases, so separate lines for each may bring more funds.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, wanted to see the bill changed before committee passage, and wants to make it clear exactly what groups would benefit.

He said the Youth Development Organization fund "sounds like it would benefit many organizations" from both Boy and Girl Scouts to the Future Farmers of America and Boys and Girls Clubs. He called for the legislation to name names to make clear exactly who would benefit. Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said helping just one group, and just boys, "is the wrong way to go and the wrong message to send."

The committee adjourned without taking action on the bill, but said it would allow Eliason to bring back amendments for consideration later this week for its last meeting of the year.

(Lee Davidson is a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune in Utah.)

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