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Hart investigation continues

by Alecia Warren
| December 14, 2010 8:00 PM

A House ethics committee agreed Monday to investigate a second complaint against an Athol legislator battling the state and federal government over unpaid taxes.

The committee voted 6 to 1 to move forward with the complaint against Rep. Phil Hart, filed by Rep. Eric Anderson over Hart's taking state-owned timber in 1996, his claims of legislative immunity and his refusal to pay income tax for several years.

Hart said the ethics committee has yet to point to anything indicating he has violated his duties as a legislator.

"They have yet to come up with anything of substance that fits into rule 76," the fourth-term legislator said of the rule concerning ethics committee parameters. "They don't have evidence or an allegation yet that allows them to go forward."

He had pointed out earlier that the timber matter occurred before his days in state government, and his tax matters shouldn't be subject to other lawmakers' review.

Hart, who boycotted income tax for several years because he believes it exceeds constitutional restrictions, added that the public has already judged him on his conduct - and approved.

"I think all these issues were out there well before the election, and they sent me back to Boise," he said.

Committee member Bill Killen, D-Boise, said he was surprised the panel chose to continue investigating, as he had predicted the members would close the matter on Monday.

"I think people were still concerned. More so than I realized," Killen said.

Committee Chairman Thomas Loertscher, R-Iona, cast the single opposition vote.

The ethics committee wants to consider new evidence about the timber Hart took from state property, Killen said, specifically addressing court proceedings on the matter.

Killen added that the group has no plans to look further into Anderson's charges about Hart using his legislative advantage in battling the state Tax Commission, or about his refusal to pay income tax.

"They (the ethics committee) thought that they had dealt with that fully in the prior go around," Killen said of the committee's dismissal a few months ago of two charges against Hart that were related to his tax issues.

Killen added that he didn't agree with dismissing those matters.

"I guess I have a fundamental problem with someone refusing to pay their taxes, particularly when we're in these economic times and everyone is hurting," he said. "To have an individual who has been told over and over and over again that his view, while he may entertain it very dearly, is simply incorrect, and he refuses to change his view ... I think that shows a disregard not only for all of us in the state, but everyone on the Legislature who are paying our taxes."

Hart, who faces $300,000 worth of liens filed by the federal government, said such comments are unfair.

He pointed out that he has paid $120,000 in back taxes in the last five years, and he is working to address the rest of his debt.

"His (Killen's) concern is not a valid concern in my situation," Hart said.

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