The Thin Mint Debacle

Published: April 8, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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Scandal or not? You decide.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the front page of Saturday’s (Apr. 6) Wall Street Journal to learn that that noble organization, The Girl Scouts of America – an organization known for building “girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place,” is under siege from two states that collect taxes on their cookie sales.

Who are the offending states?

Idaho and Hawaii are responsible for putting the bite on The Girl Scouts by not granting them a tax exemption on their annual cookie sales.

“During this year’s legislative session in Boise,” The Journal writes, “a stream of Girl Scouts used boxes of Thin Mints,” to sway lawmakers in the Idaho House. However, “a circle of senior senators blocked their next move, standing ground on the more fundamental but less winsome question about whether governments should be handing out more tax breaks.”

And their rational, political reasoning?

“Republican Sen. Jim Patrick, a supporter of the Girl Scouts bill, said he has no problem with tax breaks for worthwhile groups. But the Senate leadership wouldn’t even hold a hearing ‘because nobody could say no to Girl Scouts,’ he maintained. ‘If they had a hearing, it would pass.’ ”

How much does Idaho make in taxing the organization’s primary fund raiser – 22-cents per $3.75 box which amounts to $150,000 for the state annually.

While the amount is substantial, is Idaho in such financial need that they need to take a bite out of such a noble organization – a group known, since 1912, for standing as an example for the values we should all abide by? And how do the other 48 deal with this issue?

“State tax laws regarding Girl Scout cookies vary widely,” The Journal reports. “Some states exempt them from sales tax as food, others because cookie sales are tied to a nonprofit group. Georgia lawmakers in recent years came under fire for trying to remove a scout exemption. Kansas scouts successfully fought proposed legislation that would have allotted just three tax-free days a year for sales.

“Maine officials in the 1990s tried to force Girl Scouts to pay up on the grounds that the cookie program is a major retail enterprise. After the state lost the resulting court battle, Gov. Angus King sounded a contrite note in a budget speech. ‘We ought to be able to run the state of Maine without taxing Girl Scout cookies,’ said Mr. King, now the state’s junior U.S. senator and an independent.”

So how are the Girl Scouts dealing with the tax issue – in typical Girl Scout fashion.

“In February, the girls fanned out across the state Capitol for meetings and flooded lawmakers with emails and letters… They won a committee hearing a month later.

“ ‘If I didn’t have Girl Scouts, I probably would be too shy to be a cheerleader at my school…and I would be way too shy to come out to talk to you today,’ said 12-year-old Hailey Murray.

“Ella Marcum, the first-year scout, told lawmakers about how cookies include ‘the richest caramels’ and ‘all-natural peppermint’ ingredients. ‘I bet your mouths are watering as much as mine right now,’ she said, adding that her life goals included ‘someday seeing the first woman president’ [a nod to Hillary, here?] and eliminating cliques at school.”

The Journal reports that “Senate committee chairman, Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway, and other GOP leaders [are responsible] for keeping the legislation from coming to the floor.”

I knew it! I knew Republicans were behind this! I’ll bet Siddoway dresses as Darth Vader on Halloween.

While the tax is clearly legal, I question whether a non-profit that ranks as the 8th most popular in the United States should face a tax on a once-a-year event. In the meantime, the Girl Scouts are taking it all in stride.

“ ‘You need to have patience and perseverance,’ said first-year scout Ella Marcum, 9 years old, recounting the lessons of her first lobbying effort. ‘If someone says something negative about the bill, you have to remain calm and stuff.’ ”

Maybe Idaho Republicans should take another look at the Girl Scout Law, and recognize their contributions to ALL young women.

“I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.”

Memo to Sen. Siddoway: NO COOKIES FOR YOU!


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