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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Examination in order for Idaho Tax Commission

The Idaho Tax Commission has been in the spotlight for granting special breaks to certain out-of-state corporations and keeping the explanations a secret.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, says such deals have cost a revenue-strapped state about $75 million, so it would be nice to know the details. Several lawsuits have been filed to get at that information. Even as a judge dismissed Ringo’s suit on a technicality, she noted that the allegations were disturbing, if true.

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is the president pro-tem of the Senate, and he recently said that the commission might need to be restructured to offer more transparency. But he noted that he doesn’t think the panel has done anything wrong.

He and other lawmakers might want to rethink that after an Associated Press article that suggests that the commission chairman, Royce Chigbrow, tried to use his position to help a friend who was in a battle with a former employer.

The AP looked at the e-mails and documents collected by the attorney general’s office during the tax-break controversy and reported that Chigbrow tried to collect damning tax data on Boise Food Services after it fired his friend, Benton “Skip” Hofferber.

Chigbrow called Tax Commission staffers into his office to learn more about Boise Food Services. Later, he met with Hofferber, who supported Chigbrow’s unsuccessful 2006 run for state controller. Hofferber has sued his former employer over his termination.

Chigbrow explained that he was just doing his job and that he has never let conflicts of interest crop up while on the panel. But commission staffers had a different story. “I expressed my concern that this was a conflict of interest,” one employee wrote. Names of employees were redacted from the documents.

The AP reported that a forced tax collection against the business was begun on Dec. 1.

The AP also reported that commission employees had concerns about Chigbrow helping his son’s accounting business.

At this point it would seem obvious that a detailed examination of the actions and structure of the Idaho Tax Commission are in order. Former auditors have called its practices into question. Current staffers are troubled by its commissioner.

The public needs accountability, and that can only come from transparency.

It is no longer good enough for lawmakers to tell the public that they trust the commission. They need to show that it has earned that trust by turning it into a see-through operation.