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Hart off tax committee

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

An Athol legislator's tenure with a House tax committee will not continue this upcoming session, after much debate on how his political role was affected by his tax history.

The Idaho House speaker announced on Tuesday that Rep. Phil Hart will be removed from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, as the legislator requested in a letter.

"I liked that committee, so I'm disappointed," Hart said on Monday. "But I just think in the grand scheme of things it's better I step off of it."

Hart, just re-elected for a fourth term, had served on the committee for four years.

He submitted a letter to Speaker Lawerence Denney requesting appointment to a new committee after the two had discussed his future for months, Hart said.

"... The developments of the past several months have created a rather toxic environment for me and members of the House," Hart wrote in the letter dated Oct. 29. "I fear that my continued service on this committee would only serve to provide fodder to members of the media and my political opponents."

Hart will still be considered a member of the committee until the Legislature's reorganization session in December, when House leaders are elected and new congressional membership selected.

In a press release, Denney said he's confident Hart will serve well in the new role he is given.

"Phil is one of the hardest working members of the House and, I believe, he'll continue to be responsive to his constituents while serving on another committee," Denney said in the release.

Hart wasn't sure which committee he would prefer to serve on, but he plans to be very busy this next session with authoring legislation and continuing to untangle his legal issues with the Idaho Tax Commission.

"I probably need to have time to pursue that," he said.

Hart was the object of much public outcry in serving on the tax committee after boycotting income taxes from the mid-90s to the early 2000s, when he also sued the federal government over the legality of income taxes.

A House Ethics Panel cleared Hart of two charges this year that questioned if his governing was affected by the tax issues. Panel members had voted unanimously to recommend that Hart be removed from the tax committee.

Hart, whose suit against the federal government was unsuccessful, is still trying to settle his debt.

Hart said he has paid $125,000 to the IRS since 2005. The federal government has filed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of liens against him this year.

"It's slow, but moving," he said of efforts to settle the situation.

Last week Denney was asked to convene a second ethics committee to investigate allegations against Hart, raised by Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, over Hart's tax challenges and his removal of timber from state lands in 1996.

Denney will form the committee "as soon as possible," the press release read.

Hart isn't worried.

"He (Anderson) is rehashing some issues that have already been settled," Hart said. "At this point in time it's a distraction."

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