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Russell: Lawsuit over Idaho’s secret tax deals deferred

BOISE – A lawsuit over secret tax deals has been dropped for now, but backers say it’s just to await legislative action.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, has introduced legislation to crack down on tax compromises, requiring them to be made public and not to be granted without review by at least three tax commissioners and the tax auditors involved in the cases.

Robert Huntley, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said, “Recent pronouncements by the governor and legislative leaders … make it appear that there will be a genuine effort in the current legislative session to enact the necessary reforms into law.”

The lawsuit hasn’t been abandoned, Huntley noted – it’s just been “deferred pending action by the 2011 Legislature.”

Into the spotlight

Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, is a first-time lawmaker who stepped into the spotlight in a big way last week, introducing the controversial “nullification” bill on health care reform in the House State Affairs Committee. Barbieri said as far as other lawmakers, “I’m hearing general support.”

He is the former owner of the Sunshine Trader restaurant in Coeur d’Alene. Before that, he was an attorney in California, where he practiced with his wife in Orange County for 20 years, focusing mainly on bankruptcy law. He sold the practice when he moved to Idaho in 2004.

“I’ve never been a member of the Idaho Bar,” Barbieri said. He got his law degree in 1984 from Western State University in Fullerton, Calif.

Barbieri, 58, had never held public office before. “When Phil Hart called me and asked me to run, I figured it was just as good a time as any to be involved,” he said last spring. He’s also vice chairman of a crisis pregnancy center in Coeur d’Alene.

Barbieri won a four-way GOP primary in May for an open House seat, then was unopposed in the general election. He and Hart both represent District 3 in North Idaho, as does Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, whom Hart also encouraged to run.

Hammond endorses megaloads

New Senate Transportation Chairman Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, came out in favor of megaload truck shipments on U.S. Highway 12 last week, including hundreds of giant loads of oil equipment proposed to travel the scenic, twisting, two-lane route at night over the next year or more, en route to the Alberta oil sands project.

Hammond said he thinks the move is important to the nation’s energy future and to job creation. “I think it would be a real danger to our economic development, as we start to grow again, if we try to hinder any of these kinds of loads,” Hammond said. “Most people, particularly in this tough economy, know that we need to start rebuilding, and this project is just one niche of that rebuilding.”

Alltus, Spencer lobbying

Former North Idaho state Rep. Jeff Alltus is back in the Statehouse, this time as a lobbyist. Alltus says he’s representing convenience stores that oppose a cigarette tax increase; North Idaho activist Larry Spencer also has donned a lobbyist’s green tag and joined the fight.

Meanwhile, House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Dennis Lake says a bill to hike the cigarette tax likely won’t be introduced until late February. Lake said the bill, which would raise the tax by $1.25 a pack in part to deter smoking, is being delayed for strategic reasons.

KTEC bill hits snag

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee has put off a vote on HB 35, legislation from Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, designed to let the proposed Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum open a year earlier than it could otherwise.

Committee members said they were concerned that by allowing construction of the vocational-technical school before all the cash has been collected from a two-year, voter-approved levy, the change opened the way for shortfalls if tax collections don’t match expectations. “We’re trying to spend money we may or may not get,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.

Lake, the committee chairman, suggested holding the bill until Tuesday so Goedde could come back with more information about how the funds would flow under the bill. “Otherwise I think that we’re going to lose the bill here,” he said, “and I think the bill has merit.”

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