BOISE – In a narrow vote, Idaho lawmakers came a step closer to ending the state’s distinction as one of just two that tax Girl Scout cookies.
The Idaho House passed a sales tax exemption bill Wednesday in a 35-31 vote.
North Idaho Rep. Heather Scott argued the exemption would be unconstitutional and that the state would be better off removing sales taxes from all food.
“Do we continue down this road of voting against the Constitution, or do we stop it now and write a bill that affects everyone equal, all these nonprofits equal?” Scott asked.
Similar legislation in 2013 sailed through the House with just 11 “no” votes but died in the Senate without a hearing.
This year’s bill, which adds food sales by Boy Scouts as well, also faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, which has been leery of most new sales tax exemptions in recent years.
Idaho law already includes an array of sales tax exemptions for specific entities. Though the Idaho Constitution requires “taxes to be uniform,” that clause deals with property taxes, according to a 1936 Idaho Supreme Court decision, not excise taxes like the sales tax, and it also provides for exemptions.
“The Idaho Legislature is granted authority to grant exemptions,” said state Tax Commission Chairman Ken Roberts, a former state lawmaker.
Among them: Idaho exempts “sales of animals by any 4-H club or FFA club held in conjunction with a fair or the western Idaho spring lamb sale,” and “the renting of a place to sleep to an individual by the Idaho Ronald McDonald House.” Numerous specific organizations, from the Blind Services Foundation to Special Olympics Idaho, are exempted from paying sales tax on their purchases.
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said he’s a backer of Boy Scouts and has been a Boy Scout leader, but said, “We in this bill are singling out two individual organizations by name … to the exclusion of other similar organizations. I think that’s a horrible precedent to be setting in our tax policy. It begs for more special interest types of legislation.”
The exemption would cost the state general fund an estimated $185,900 a year in lost sales taxes.
Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, who sponsored the bill along with a bipartisan group of six other lawmakers, told the House, “Today, only two states tax Girl Scout cookies, Idaho and Hawaii. Forty-eight other states have seen the benefit that these organizations bring to their states.”
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