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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hart averts another tax fight

Lawmaker months late filing 2009 return

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE – Tax-protesting Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart narrowly avoided a court order over the holidays when he belatedly filed his 2009 state income tax return three days before Christmas.

The Idaho State Tax Commission went to court in December for an order against Hart, saying he’d ignored repeated notices that his tax return was due. Returns are due by April 15.

In court documents, the Tax Commission noted that state records showed Hart had taxable income in 2009 of at least $16,155 – his salary as a state legislator.

“However, the defendant continues to refuse to file his Idaho income tax returns,” state lawyers wrote in a Dec. 20 filing in 1st District Court in Kootenai County. “To the extent that the defendant challenges the constitutionality of state or federal income taxes, or asserts that this court lacks jurisdiction to enforce the tax laws as they apply to him, these claims are without merit. The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that the Idaho Income Tax Act does not violate the federal or state constitution.”

The state filed to dismiss the case on Dec. 23, a day after Hart belatedly filed the missing tax return.

Hart still is fighting an order to pay more than $53,000 in state income taxes, penalties and interest from past years, on grounds including that his status as a state legislator should have given him months longer to appeal. He also contends Idaho’s state income tax is unconstitutional.

First District Judge John Mitchell dismissed Hart’s latest appeal of that order on Dec. 8, calling Hart’s arguments “unthinkable” and “wholly unsupported.” But now Hart has filed a motion asking Mitchell to reconsider his decision; a hearing on the motion has been set for March.

In his motion, Hart, who couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, argues that the state Board of Tax Appeals was off by one day on the date it recorded the filing of his appeal, in a “clear error,” and that a rule requiring the posting of a 20 percent appeal bond is unconstitutional.

The board rejected Hart’s appeal because it wasn’t filed on time. Hart’s 91-day appeal period ran out on Jan. 1, 2010; he argued that because that was within 10 days of the start of the legislative session, he should have months longer to file, under Idaho’s constitutional privilege for legislators.

The board rejected that argument, saying that even if the privilege applied, Hart still filed too late, and also paid the required 20 percent fee even later.

Hart, R-Athol, stopped filing both federal and state income tax returns in 1996 while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit claiming the federal income tax was unconstitutional. He’s since been wrangling with federal and state authorities over back payments; according to public records including IRS liens, Hart owes more than $500,000 in back federal and state taxes, penalties and interest. Hart says he’s paid $120,000 in state and federal taxes since 2005.

In September, a special House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to recommend that Hart be removed from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee while he continues his personal fights against back state and federal income taxes.

That committee is now reviewing a new ethics complaint against Hart from fellow GOP Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, charging that Hart has violated his oath of office. The complaint cites both his tax fights and his 1996 timber theft from state school endowment lands. Hart used the logs to build his Athol home, contended unsuccessfully in court that he was entitled to them as a citizen, and never paid off an outstanding judgment in the case.