BOISE – Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart is going to court over state income taxes he owes, charging in 1st District Court in Kootenai County that Idaho’s state income tax is unconstitutional.
On Monday, the state of Idaho filed a motion to dismiss the challenge; the court set a Dec. 7 hearing.
Hart’s seven-page appeal raises an array of issues, including whether Idaho’s state income tax, “as a graduated tax, fails the uniformity requirement” of Idaho’s state Constitution; and whether the state Board of Tax Appeals, in Hart’s case, “upheld the sanctity” of Idaho’s constitutional privilege protecting state legislators from civil action during legislative sessions.
Hart raised similar issues in appealing an order to pay $53,523 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest last spring, but the state Board of Tax Appeals rejected his appeal. It also rejected a motion for reconsideration Hart filed in September.
In late September, a special House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to recommend that Hart, a three-term Republican state representative from Athol, be removed from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee while he continues his personal fights against paying back state and federal income taxes. Hart refused to step down from the committee, maintaining that he has no conflict of interest.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said recently that he plans to wait until after today’s election to decide whether to remove Hart from the tax committee. Hart is seeking a fourth term; he is unopposed on the ballot, facing only a write-in opponent, fellow Republican Howard Griffiths, of Hayden.
Hart stopped filing both federal and state income tax returns in 1996 while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit claiming the federal income tax was unconstitutional. He’s since been wrangling with both federal and state authorities over back payments. According to public records, including IRS liens, Hart owes more than $500,000 in back federal and state taxes, penalties and interest. Hart says he’s paid $120,000 in state and federal taxes since 2005.
The state Board of Tax Appeals rejected Hart’s administrative appeal in August, saying it wasn’t filed in time. Hart’s 91-day appeal period ran out on Jan. 1, 2010; he argued that because it was within 10 days of the start of the legislative session, he should have months longer to file under Idaho’s constitutional privilege for legislators.
The board rejected that argument, saying that even if the privilege applied, Hart still filed too late, and he paid a required fee even later.
Hart’s Coeur d’Alene attorney, Starr Kelso, contends that his client’s tax problems are “entirely the result of political persecution of Mr. Hart by the IRS.”