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Hill: ‘I didn’t mean to indicate everything was fine’

Some news reports in the past week suggested that Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill was dismissing complaints about secret tax deals at the state Tax Commission, but Hill told Eye on Boise today that wasn’t his intent at all. “I didn’t mean to indicate that everything was fine,” he said. Hill said in his view, two questions need to be addressed: Did the tax commissioners do anything illegal, and should there be changes at the commission, as suggested in whistleblower Stan Howland’s report? Hill said he agrees with the commissioners’ approach of settling some tax cases to avoid litigation. “If … the commissioners have acted contrary to Idaho law, then I’m committed to trying to change Idaho law,” he said. “The commissioners need to have leeway to use their good judgment – that’s what we’re paying them for.” But, he added, “I think some of his (Howland’s) suggestions do have some merit.”

Among them: “Any settlements, I think we should have those as open as possible.” Hill said he wasn’t convinced by a brief statement from tax commissioners that they must keep settlements secret or they can’t share information with the IRS. “I would like chapter and verse on that,” he said. “What is dictating that? … I think we could structure it in such a way that we could make it more accessible so that the public and others could judge whether these settlements are appropriate or not, so I agree with him on that count. I think we should definitely look into that.”

Hill said of Howland, “I see a very dedicated auditor whose job is to go in and collect the most tax that the law provides. And then a lot of frustration, because the commissioners are taking what he’s put his blood, sweat and tears into to come up with and giving part of that away.” Hill said he sees the role of tax commissioners differently than Howland does. In Hill’s memo to Gov. Butch Otter, he wrote that Idaho’s “taxpayer bill of rights,” passed in 1993, altered the role of commissioners, so that auditors represent the state’s interest in collecting taxes, while “the commissioners must represent everyone’s interests from the government to the taxpayer. This difference in roles will always generate conflict between the commissioners and audit personnel.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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