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Hart defends tax fight, welcomes ethics probe

Phil Hart (Courtesy photo)
Phil Hart (Courtesy photo)

BOISE - Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart on Friday defended his long tax fight against the IRS and the state Tax Commission, and said he looks forward to telling his story to a House ethics committee.

“I would welcome the opportunity to tell my story,” said Hart, R-Athol, a third-term state lawmaker who’s unopposed for re-election in November.

A day earlier, House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he’ll appoint an ethics committee to look into a formal complaint against Hart from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. Rusche raised two issues: A possible conflict of interest between Hart’s ongoing personal tax fight and his service on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which handles all tax legislation; and possible misuse of the legislative privilege from arrest and civil process. Hart has cited the constitutional privilege, which protects lawmakers from arrest during sessions, in seeking delays in his tax disputes at both the state and federal levels.

Hart stopped filing federal and state income tax returns in 1996 while he unsuccessfully challenged the federal income tax as unconstitutional; he’s since made partial payment, but the IRS has filed nearly $300,000 in tax liens against him in the past year, and the state Tax Commission ordered him in October to pay $53,000 in back income taxes, penalties and interest.

“It’s a nightmare,” an unrepentant Hart wrote in an editorial distributed to newspapers on Friday. “Regardless of whether or not the income tax on wages and salaries is constitutional, most agree on one thing: It is an inefficient and privacy invading tax. It is also subject to manipulation and abuse. Is it then wrong to fight for my legitimate deductions and to stand on my principles?”

Hart also claimed that the IRS denied eight years of his business deductions because he refused to turn over the names of people who bought his self-published book, “Constitutional Income.” However, federal court documents filed in both California and Idaho in June of 2007 show the IRS and Hart both agreed that he could provide the book-sale information with buyers’ names redacted, and that the IRS agreed not to seek that same information again.

In April of 2007, Hart told The Spokesman-Review he’d reached an agreement with the IRS to disclose sales figures, but not names of buyers; the agreement averted a pending hearing before a federal district judge in Boise, and required Hart to provide the financial information within 60 days.

In his editorial, Hart wrote of the IRS, “For them, this isn’t about the liens or the money; it is about getting the names.”

An IRS spokeswoman couldn’t be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Coeur d’Alene Press newspaper published an editorial on Friday calling on Hart to step down from office and appoint a substitute until he’s resolved his tax problems, and Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said, “The right thing for Phil to do is to resign. … He’s an emboldened radical, is what he is.”

Hart and Jorgenson have been so far at odds this year - though they represent the same district in the Legislature - that Hart helped recruit a candidate to run against Jorgenson in the GOP primary, and the candidate, Steve Vick, defeated Jorgenson.

Hart also recruited Vito Barbieri, a former Coeur d’Alene restaurant owner who won the four-way GOP primary to replace Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, who’s retiring after this year.

Barbieri stood by Hart on Friday, and said he believes Hart may be a victim of a conspiracy against conservatives. “He has been a solid-rock conservative the entire time,” Barbieri said, “so I’m sure there are powers that be that would just as soon get him out of the way, so they can continue with their moderate agenda.”

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