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Leader: Hart should resign

by Brian Walker
| June 22, 2010 9:00 PM

A local Democrat is calling upon key elected officials to clearly state their position on Phil Hart's tax troubles and ask him to resign.

Thom George, chairman of the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee, believes some officials have brushed off the Republican representative from Athol being hit with nearly $300,000 in tax liens from the Internal Revenue Service in the last year. The Idaho Tax Commission also claims Hart owes more than $53,000 in unpaid taxes over several years.

George blasted Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, among others, for saying Hart's issues are a personal matter.

"Idaho citizens work hard and pay their taxes that provide for roads, schools and our national defense," George said.

"Even if we don't always agree with how those taxes are collected and distributed, we understand our responsibility to comply with federal and state laws.

"For Mr. Hart to refuse to pay his taxes for years and then fail to comply with a court decision ordering repayment is reprehensible. Each and every elected official in the state of Idaho should call upon Mr. Hart to step down immediately."

Henderson said he made the comment early on when the controversy first broke and many details hadn't emerged.

"His unpaid debt is a personal matter, but I never said that office holders should be exempt from the law," Henderson said. "Anyone who knows me knows that I believe officials should work at the highest standard."

Henderson said he supports forming a legislative ethics committee to review the issue that would act as the jury. He has recommended that Republicans on the committee be Dennis Lake, Del Raybould, Carlos Bilboa and George Eskridge and the Democrats John Rusche, Bill Killen and George Sayler. All have served at least four terms and are respected House members, Henderson said.

"We're looking for a valid, unbiased review," Henderson said. "The (Republican) party is getting lots of criticism and we need a squeaky clean inquiry.

"A final decision must be based upon facts, not rumor or op-ed articles. I also urged promptness in this service to the public."

Hart, a third-term legislator who will run unopposed in November, serves on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. He said he looks forward to presenting his case to the ethics committee and believes it's too early to ask other officials to take a stand or demand that he step down.

"I welcome the opportunity to share my experiences and to answer the committee's questions," Hart said. "For anyone to draw a conclusion now, either Republican or Democrat, would be premature. Let's allow the process set in place to work."

It's unclear when the committee will be finalized, but it may be this week.

Although Hart has paid roughly $104,000 in state and federal income tax since 2006, he said, he still believes it is an inefficient tax.

He worked last session on House Bill 454 to eliminate income tax on wages and salaries and meanwhile keep investment income and raise the sales tax. He didn't request a hearing, he said, because he had more financial analysis to do, but he hopes it will be heard in the upcoming session.

When asked how he can oppose income taxes and at the same time accept medical coverage paid for by Idahoans' income taxes, he referred to the bill.

He stopped paying his taxes in 1996 when he sued the IRS, contending income tax is unconstitutional. A federal judge ruled against him in 2000, and his appeal was later denied. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up the case.

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