A Democratic lawmaker rejects claims from the Idaho Republican Party that her lawsuit against the Idaho Tax Commission and the Legislature is frivolous or a political ploy.
“This is something that deserves attention,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is suing the tax commission and the Legislature over allegations that tax commissioners are violating the state constitution by allowing commissioners to “game the system” to reduce payments from specific taxpayers. “I’m certainly not doing it to gain votes,” Ringo said.
The Idaho Republican Party issued a statement saying Ringo’s lawsuit is politically motivated and will force the state to spend money on its legal defense. “If Rep. Ringo or her Democrat colleagues implicate anyone through innuendo or hearsay and use that information in a political campaign, we’ll be reminding the public that taxpayers are paying for that partisan propaganda,” Jonathan Parker, the GOP’s executive director, said in a news release.
The lawsuit alleging confidential and politically-motivated tax deals stems largely from a report by a former tax auditor, Stan Howland, who wrote a report two years ago detailing what he called illegal audit settlements. Ringo said she also discussed the issue with another retired auditor who confirmed Howland’s claims. The lawsuit, filed earlier this month, alleges that the tax commission is currently settling a case with two taxpayers with a $50 million tax liability that could end up costing the state tax base between $15 million and $50 million. The suit also said that a tax commissioner reversed an audit adjustment for a friend who is a prominent political figure.
Parker said the lawsuit is partisan in nature because Ringo hired former Idaho Supreme Court Justice and Democratic candidate for governor Robert Huntley for the lawsuit. Ringo said she felt Huntley was the best attorney she could get for the case.
“If we were trying to make political hay, I probably would have tried to get as many lawmakers to sign onto this as possible, and that was never the intent,” Ringo told IdahoReporter.com. She said she didn’t discuss the lawsuit with any other state legislators before filing it in Ada County.
A review of Howland’s report by the Idaho attorney general's office found nothing illegal, though it led to reforms approved without opposition by lawmakers last year. Those reforms require two of the four state tax commissioners to review any tax adjustments over $50,000 and added some reporting requirements for the commission. Parker said Ringo’s lawsuit is an example of buyer’s remorse and rings of political opportunism.
Ringo said she approved the reforms last year only because she feared lawmakers wouldn’t take further action. She said the current process for settling tax liabilities lacks transparency and still leaves some decisions up to the whim of commission members. She said she will introduce further reforms next year, though the lawsuit is another means of changing state law. Ringo faces a Republican challenger in the November election.
“I hope that legislators will be willing to look at this and take stronger action,” she said. Ringo also said she wasn’t sure how long the lawsuit against the state would last. “Sometimes these things can go on for a long time, but in the interest of having a fair policy and not having some taxpayers bear the burden of others that are getting special treatment, I think the sooner (this can be resolved) the better.”