July 10, 2011 in Idaho

Eye on Boise: New tax official breaking old ties

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Idaho’s newest tax commissioner, longtime certified public accountant and prominent Republican Rich Jackson, says he’s going above and beyond legal requirements to step away from professional and political involvements as he moves into his new role.

He’s withdrawing from his CPA partnership, Jackson and Coles in Boise, and said he’ll recuse himself from any issues involving former clients, partners or employees of the firm. He’s resigning as chairman of the Idaho Legislative Compensation Committee, treasurer of the Boise Metro Chamber PAC, a member of the Idaho Manufactured Housing Board and treasurer of the Idaho House of Representatives Republican Caucus.

“I just didn’t even want to embarrass the governor or the Tax Commission or anybody, so I stepped aside” from all of those positions, Jackson said.

He added, “I’m trying to be very methodical and complete, and if I miss something I’m going to fix it. … These economic times are too tough, and I’m fully aware of all the criticism.”

The Tax Commission has received much criticism in recent years, from whistle-blowers’ allegations that it was cutting secret deals with politically connected taxpayers to the resignation of former Chairman Royce Chigbrow in January amid a criminal investigation. Last week, the Ada County prosecutor announced he wouldn’t bring charges against Chigbrow despite having found evidence of wrongdoing on at least one count involving mishandling of checks, because a statute of limitations had expired on that charge. Chigbrow had been accused by commission employees of intervening on behalf of his son’s accounting firm and attempting to use his position to help a friend embroiled in a dispute with a former business partner.

Jackson is blunt about the impact of the Chigbrow scandal. “I think it tarnished not only the Tax Commission, but CPAs,” he said. Chigbrow, like Jackson, is a longtime certified public accountant.

“I’m hurt over it, it’s unfortunate,” he said. “But I will tell you the governor’s office was very methodical and we’ve taken lots of additional steps so that can’t happen again.”

He mentioned the new Tax Commission chairman, former state Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, saying, “I think he was a very, very good choice, in moving forward to repair that damage, restore morale inside the agency and move forward.”

The agency lost good, longtime staffers during Chigbrow’s tenure, Jackson said, and employee morale plummeted. “That all ended with the appointment of Geddes, just bam,” he said. “Bob will work extremely hard to restore that, and I think it’s coming along. But that cost the state of Idaho for quite a few years.”

Jackson is now the only CPA on the full-time, four-member tax commission. It’s chaired by Geddes, a geologist and environmental engineer and a Republican from Soda Springs, and also includes two Democrats, former county commissioner and educator Tom Katsilometes and former state Sen. David Langhorst, a former land appraiser. Commissioners make $87,447 a year.

Geddes said of Jackson, “He knows a lot about almost every kind of tax there is to know about. So his expertise and experience will be well-served on the Tax Commission. He’s also a good administrator, and he has a very thoughtful and courteous demeanor about him, and he’ll get along really well with our staff and employees, I think.”

Though much of Jackson’s expertise is in income taxes, he’s been assigned to oversee sales tax matters on the commission. That was the area overseen by former Commissioner Sam Haws, whom Jackson replaces; she now heads the Idaho Commission on Aging, replacing Kim Toryanski, who is now deputy administrator of the Idaho Division of Human Resources.

“He is concerned about minimizing conflict of interest and wanting to be as transparent as he possibly can,” Geddes said. Plus, he said, “That’s where we needed him.”

With all the trouble at the Tax Commission in recent years, lawmakers have looked into restructuring the department and doing away with the full-time commissioners in favor of a professional director.

Jackson said he followed that debate closely, through his involvement with the Idaho Society of CPAs, and contacted Montana CPAs because that state moved from a commission to a director.

“Their point-blank unequivocal response was, ‘Don’t change; you’ve got the better system,’ because of the political influence,” Jackson said. “Here, we’re balanced with two and two (from each political party) and staggered terms. Over there you’ve got one person, who can be a puppet of the governor. … Although we serve at the pleasure of the governor, there’s four people making decisions.”


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