BOISE – Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart, who’s currently facing a House ethics review over his ongoing fight over unpaid federal and state income taxes, has paid property taxes late on his Kootenai County home every year since 2002.
Tax records kept by the Kootenai County treasurer’s office show that Hart currently owes $1,011.23 for the 2009 taxes on the home, plus $55.04 in interest and $18.74 in penalties. Over the past eight years, he’s been as much as 16 months late on the property taxes on the home, and has paid $1,527.05 in interest and $325.64 in penalties and fees.
A House ethics inquiry will look into whether Hart’s tax woes create a conflict of interest with his service on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, and whether he abused legislative privilege by invoking it to seek repeated delays in his state and federal income tax fights.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he didn’t know if the late property tax payments are relevant to the ethics inquiry or not. “Basically what he’s doing is he’s borrowing money from the county,” Rusche said. “I just don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting.”
Hart couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, but he told The Spokesman-Review in 2005 that his delinquent property taxes that year weren’t part of his tax protests, and the payments were “just behind.”
Hart, R-Athol, a third-term state lawmaker who’s unopposed for re-election in November, stopped paying state and federal income taxes in 1996 while he unsuccessfully sued the IRS, arguing that the income tax was unconstitutional. After conceding in 2003, he began filing returns again, but both the IRS and the state Tax Commission contend he still hasn’t paid in full. As a result, the IRS has filed nearly $300,000 in tax liens against Hart in Kootenai County in the past year, and the state Tax Commission in October ordered him to pay $53,000 in back state taxes, penalties and interest.
Hart is appealing the state Tax Commission’s order and contending that legislative privilege should give him months longer to file his appeal, because Idaho’s 2010 legislative session started shortly after Hart’s appeal period expired last winter.
In Idaho, delinquent property tax payments accrue interest and penalties, but they don’t go on the taxpayer’s credit report. Instead, once the payments are three years overdue, the county takes the property by tax deed, in a complicated process that can result in the sale of the property for back taxes. The first half of property taxes must be paid by Dec. 20 of the tax year, and the second half by the following June.
Hart’s home is owned by a trust in the name of his daughter; he’s declined to say why. Another trust owns his engineering business.
County records show he’s made several partial payments.
The 2008 taxes on the home were paid in full seven months late, in January of 2010. The 2007 taxes were paid in full in March of 2009.