SB 1128, the bill to place new requirements on the state Tax Commission when it settles large tax cases in secret deals, has passed the Senate on a unanimous, 33-0 vote. The bill, which requires an additional review before such settlements can be approved for more than $50,000; additional documentation including a summary that notes tax auditors’ recommendations, which would be open to legislative auditors though not to the public; and an annual report on the secret deals to the governor and Legislature, comes in response to allegations in a whistleblower’s report that charged the commission was illegally excusing millions in corporate taxes through the secret deals. The whistleblower, longtime state tax auditor Stan Howland, opposed the bill, however, and testified against it in committee, saying it didn’t go far enough to address the practice. An Attorney General’s review concluded the deals weren’t illegal.
Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, told the Senate the bill was designed “to improve the process that they go through, so that the people of the state have confidence in the Tax Commission and the process that is followed.” Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Hill, said, “Some will say that the provisions of the bill don’t go far enough. Others will say that the provisions go too far. … Perhaps we’ve struck the right balance.” She noted that under the bill, the Tax Commission is required to adopt specific administrative rules governing the settlement process, and the Legislature reviews all such rules. She called the bill “a good move in the right direction.” It now moves to the House.