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Eye On Boise

Holding off the tax man…

It turns out that Rep. Phil Hart's current dispute with the Idaho State Tax Commission and state Board of Tax Appeals isn't the first time he's invoked his status as a state legislator to hold off the tax man. In 2006, as a newly elected lawmaker with just one session under his belt, Hart came to Boise for a one-day special session called by then-Gov. Jim Risch. While Hart was in the state Capitol, an IRS employee snagged him and served him with a document subpoena. "They just caught me in the building. It was a surprise," Hart said. "They just handed me some paper work and it was a summons, and that was that."

He protested, noting the state Constitution's protection of lawmakers from civil process while in session, and the IRS served him with the same summons again in November during a face-to-face meeting. Hart took that as a sign he'd won on the civil process question.

Then, in January of 2008, the Internal Revenue Service mailed a Notice of Deficiency on income taxes to Hart during the first week of the month. "The legislative session commenced January 7 of that year and continued for approximately three months," according to a letter Hart requested from a Spokane attorney and submitted to bolster his case in his current state income tax appeal. "It appears that you are privileged to argue that the issuance of the NOD was ineffective under the legislative immunity provisions of the Idaho Constitution," attorney Donald J. Gary Jr. wrote to Hart in September of 2009.

Then, on Hart's state income tax dispute, the Idaho State Tax Commission issued Hart two notices of deficiency in September of 2008, covering tax years from 1996 to 2004. He protested the decision, and then, on Jan. 15, 2009, sent the state Tax Commission a letter asking to delay his hearing until 30 days after the adjournment of the 2009 legislative session. After being granted a delay to May 15, he sent another letter April 29 asking for another delay; that year's legislative session ran until May 8. The Tax Commission agreed to another delay, but said the hearing should take place within two weeks of the end of the session. Hart then didn't contact the commission until June 6, proposing dates in late June or July; the hearing finally was held on July 8, though the commission said he still didn't provide all the requested documents. He then sent additional materials to the commission in September of 2009, including the letter from the Spokane attorney.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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