- At a time when Idaho has slashed spending across the board and actually reduced, for the first time ever, year-over-year funding for public education, wouldn't a tougher approach to tax compliance make sense both as a budgetary necessity and as a simple matter of fairness to the thousands of diligent Idaho taxpayers? For every dollar Montana spends on audits it collects $8 in taxes that legally should be paid. Anyway you slice it, that is a pretty sound - and conservative - return on investment.
- Idaho's revenue department, with due respect to the four full-time and politically appointed commissioners who run the agency, is an inefficient, 1944 approach to collecting the state's revenue. (The Tax Commission was created by Constitutional amendment in 1944 with part-time commissioners, the full-time commissioners were put in place in 1967.) Idaho needs - and this has been long debated - an appointed director of revenue who, as in Montana and most states, is directly accountable for running the department and collecting taxes. Such a move would save money, could likely provide greater efficiency and, as witnessed by recent allegations of political favoritism, remove "politics" from tax collecting. It is a reform long overdue and, frankly, both major party candidates for governor should embrace such an initiative.
Add to these practical realities the fact that in politics - and tax policy is politics - perception is reality. And the perception is clear - from whistle blowers to an on-going ethics probe of a tax-protesting state legislator - that something is not altogether right with Idaho's approach to collecting taxes.
Three long-time, former Tax Commission employees recently came forward alleging there is truth in the claim made in a pending lawsuit that certain well-connected Idahoans have benefited from "sweetheart" tax deals engineered at the Tax Commission. It has been suggested that a lawsuit may not be the best way to fix whatever is wrong. Probably true. A top-to-bottom independent review, followed by serious legislative work on reform, makes a lot more sense.
If the state wants to turn over rocks looking for legitimate tax revenue that is not being collected, Montana has the right structure, attitude and road map. Continuing the approach Idaho has taken is a recipe for more budget cuts, continued unfairness to those Idahoans who try hard to play by the rules, and a further deterioration of public confidence in the system.
You don't have to be a $500 an hour tax lawyer to see that there is an election year issue - and potentially a big scandal - in there somewhere.