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State: Hart seeks special treatment as legislator

Phil Hart (Betsy Russell)
Phil Hart (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Attorneys for the Idaho State Tax Commission have filed their response to Rep. Phil Hart’s state income tax appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, writing that Hart seems to be arguing different rules apply to him just because he’s a state legislator.

“Appellant appears to be arguing that his status as a legislator excuses him from the requirement to file a timely appeal,” the state attorneys wrote. Hart, a tax protester who stopped filing both federal and state income tax returns for three years in the 1990s, had 91 days to appeal his order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest for tax years 1996 to 2004, but instead waited more than six months, saying an intervening legislative session entitled him to more time. Because it was too late, his appeal was rejected, a decision he’s now appealed five times.

Hart, a fourth-term Republican from Athol, Idaho, is citing the clause in Idaho’s state Constitution that exempts lawmakers from arrest or “civil process” during legislative sessions and 10 days before they begin, with exceptions for “treason, felony or breach of the peace.”

Deputy Attorney General Bill von Tagen wrote in the state’s court filing that the point of such clauses is to keep lawmakers from being prevented from attending sessions. In this case, he wrote, Hart isn’t defending himself against any civil process filed against him - he’s the one who initiated the appeal.

By Hart’s argument, von Tagen wrote, any administrative proceeding in which a legislator is involved would have its time limits and statutes of limitations put on hold, creating potential chaos.

“If appellant’s arguments were taken to their logical conclusions, during a legislative session legislators who were livestock operators could ignore administrative orders to quarantine diseased livestock … legislators who were restaurateurs could ignore administrative orders tagging adulterated food or refusing routine health inspections … and legislators who were pharmacists could ignore administrative orders for inspections of their records and/or inventories. … The public health and safety might well suffer.”

Hart’s first court appeal in his state income tax case charged that Idaho’s state income tax is unconstitutional; that argument wasn’t considered, because the appeal was thrown out for being filed too late.

Hart now has another week to file his reply to the state’s response, and then the case can be set for arguments before the Supreme Court, which likely won’t happen before April of 2012.

Hart, who unsuccessfully sued the IRS claiming the federal income tax was unconstitutional, has sought delays in his state and federal tax cases five times due to his duties as a state legislator.

The IRS has filed hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens against Hart and two trusts he created, one that owns his Athol, Idaho home and another that owns his engineering firm. Though Hart contends he started filing returns again after he lost his federal lawsuit and has made substantial payments, both federal and state authorities maintain he still hasn’t fully paid up.

Hart faced multiple ethics complaints in the Idaho House over the past year, both over his tax issues and over his theft of timber from state school endowment land in 1996 to build his log home in Athol, for which he never fully paid an outstanding judgment. Hart was removed from the House Tax Committee and agreed to give up his vice chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee to avoid ethics sanctions; he apologized to the full House in February.

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