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Rep. Hart responds to ethics complaint

BOISE - Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, denied the ethics charges against him Wednesday in a formal response to a special House Ethics Committee, and decried the complaint against him for citing “news accounts” and “perceptions.”

“I have no hesitancy in accounting for, and defending, all of my actions as an elected representative of District 3,” Hart said in a letter to the committee. “I am, however, concerned that anyone could choose to base an ethics complaints on what ‘appears’ from ‘recent news accounts.’”

Hart is charged with possible abuse of legislative privilege for repeatedly citing the constitutional protection of lawmakers from arrest or civil service during legislative sessions to seek delays in his federal and state income tax fights, and possible conflict of interest for serving on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee while pressing his personal tax fights. The Spokesman-Review reported on Hart’s moves in a series of articles over the past month.

In a pending appeal with the Idaho Board of Tax Appeals, Hart contends that, as a lawmaker, he should have been given months of extra time to file a state income tax appeal because of the legislative session. His 91-day appeal period ran out shortly before the start of this year’s session in January; he filed his appeal in the spring, after the session was over.

The state disagrees and has moved to have his appeal dismissed; the state Tax Commission has ordered Hart to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest.

Hart also has had nearly $300,000 in IRS tax liens filed against him in Kootenai County just in the past year. His tax woes stem from his decision to stop filing state income tax returns in 1996 while he unsuccessfully sued, contending the federal income tax was unconstitutional. His state appeal also argues that the state income tax is unconstitutional.

Hart introduced legislation this year to eliminate the Idaho income tax on earned income, and replace it with a higher sales tax.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who filed the complaint against Hart, said, “Certainly there’s a difference of opinion, and I’ll leave it to the Ethics Committee to decide on the appropriateness of the behaviors and whether or how they reflect upon the credibility and authority of the House of Representatives.”

The rarely convened Ethics Committee will hold a hearing on Hart’s case July 29.