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Ethics panel to discuss Hart Monday

by Alecia Warren
| December 10, 2010 8:00 PM

Time for another round.

A House ethics committee will meet on Monday to discuss the most recent complaint filed against an Athol legislator, the charge concerning both his tax issues and an incident of taking timber from state property.

Rep. Phil Hart said he isn't impressed by the complaint filed against him by Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake.

"I think it's a political maneuver," Hart said this week. "Politics is a full contact sport, so I can't complain too vigorously about it because it goes with the territory."

He argued that Anderson's multi-part complaint has no teeth.

Hart's taking timber from state school endowment land in 1996 is not a valid subject to be addressed by the legislative ethics committee, he said.

"The ethics committee pertains to one's performance in duties as a legislator," said Hart, recently elected to his fourth term. "It (the timber incident) predates my time in the Legislature."

He added that the committee shouldn't need to look into Anderson's concerns over how Hart battles his tax debts, the result of his boycotting income tax for several years.

Hart is following the judicial process to address the back taxes and fees ordered by the state and the federal government, he said, which isn't relevant to the ethics committee process.

"Every citizen in Idaho is afforded that (legal) opportunity. I'm exercising the same right anybody may exercise," he said.

Ethics committee Vice-Chair Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she has faith in the other legislators selected for the bipartisan, seven-member committee.

Jaquet said the committee might wait to make a decision after Monday, depending what kind of information is provided.

The group could also decide not to go further at all, she said, as some have had their fill of this issue.

"I just got a feeling that perhaps some people in the Legislature would like to have closure," Jaquet said. "They don't appreciate Rep. Anderson opening it (Hart's tax issues) up again."

She is concerned about how Hart's income tax battle has reflected on the Legislature, she said.

"There is this perception out there that this person is really hurting the reputation of all of us, rather than just Phil Hart," she said.

On Wednesday, a district court tossed out Hart's appeal of $53,000 the Idaho Tax Commission has ordered him to pay in back state income taxes, penalties and interest.

The federal government has filed $300,000 in tax liens against Hart.

Hart said most of the dollars the state is asking for are from business expenses he wasn't allowed to deduct during an audit.

"I'll just say we're frustrated," he said.

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