Utahns may soon be able to check a new box on state income tax forms to donate part of their refunds to the Boy Scouts — although debate Thursday in the Utah House did not initially make clear that Scouts are likely the only ones that would qualify for money from a proposed new state fund.
Still, the House voted 41-31 to pass HB145, which would allow Utahns to donate to a new state “Youth Development Organization” account.
Its sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said the Department of Workforce Services would distribute donations “to organizations that would meet certain criteria, among those would be [groups] that teach good character, citizenship, personal fitness and help young people make ethical and moral choices over their lifetime.”
He did not mention that the bill also requires recipients to be tax-exempt organizations that have at least 180,000 members in the state — which happens to be how many Scouts are in traditional units in Utah, according to information Scout councils provided to the Tribune in 2011. It is by far the state’s largest youth group, with most of its units sponsored by the LDS Church.
When asked in debate if money would go directly to an organization or to a state fund, Eliason replied it would go to a fund and DWS would “then disperse the money to any organization that meets the criteria listed in the bill.”
When Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said a voter complained that Girl Scouts would not qualify and asked Eliason if that were true. He responded, “If the Girl Scouts met the criteria, they would certainly be included in that,” and then added someone could run a different bill to include them if they felt strongly.
When TheTribune asked Eliason later how many groups would qualify for funding through the bill, he said he knew of at least three — and acknowledged “they are all Boy Scout organizations” — its three councils in the state. While he said the bill was designed to help them, other groups might also eventually qualify.
Eliason added state law does not permit raising money from tax returns for specific outside groups, but allows raising it for funds that are then distributed to qualifying groups.
For example, he said the Road Home shelter — for which he is a board member — is a recipient “of money from the Pamela Atkinson Homeless trust fund. But you will see the Road Home mentioned nowhere in the code.”
Tax forms also currently allow donations to the Utah Nongame Wildlife Account, the Kurt Oscarson Children’s Organ Transplant Account, the Cat & Dog Community Spay and Neuter Program, the Methamphetamine House Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Fund, the Canine Body Armor Account and an account for donations to local schools.