citydesk (3/4/09) 

Auditor proposes amendment

Stan Howland, the tax auditor who first raised objections to the way that Idaho's Tax Commission settles cases with multi-state corporations, has proposed opening up settlements to public scrutiny.

Howland, through his attorney Robert Huntley, is proposing four changes to a bill that purports to regulate the commission's "compromise and closing" process. The biggest change would make the comp and close document a public document, whereas now it is done in secret.

"The media is the only safeguard against corruption on a state or national scale where the cover-up is conducted on such a grand scale as we have here. This can be seen in each day's newspaper. At the present time, the Idaho media, in the absence of public records of the compromises, has neither the interest nor the ability to demand accountability from our public officials regarding the Tax Commission," Huntley wrote in a four-page letter to lawmakers.

Huntley suggests amending a bill brought by two senators, Boise Democrat Kate Kelly and Rexburg Republican Brent Hill. Senate Bill 1128, was to be discussed as BW went to press. It codifies a minimum standard for review of tax settlements that is not that different from the way it's done now.

Huntley and Howland suggest forcing the Tax Commission to publish more specific guidelines for settlements, submit a comprehensive report to the Legislature each January 15, stop redacting information from its published written decisions and, notably, mandate that all compromise agreements be public documents, including settlement amounts and names of taxpayers.

Huntley points out that the Idaho Constitution gives the Legislature and not the commissioners the power to levy taxes. And the Legislature is not privy to the commissioners' settlements, giving the commission a de facto taxing authority.

"Thus, there is no meaningful guideline or constraint, and even with the old wording there was no constraint so long as the C&Cs (comp and closes) are secret and contain no rationale," Huntley writes.

Statesman on Atkins (diet)

Citydesk bumped into an Idaho Statesman reporter last week who pointed out that BW had not been picking on the daily as much of late. We agreed it had been a few months, and offered that we had more important things to do.

But then, a few days later, the Statesman arrived on our tiled stoop a few inches shorter and thinner, complete with an explanatory pamphlet.

"Busy readers will find even more to like in the new Statesman," the top of the fold bragged.

In newspaper land, that is code for, "we're dumbing it down because we can't afford as much ink anymore."

The Statesman confirms as much in an inside (inside the sports section, that is) business story sidebar: "The paper is 1 inch narrower and about 2 inches shorter, matching the emerging industry standard. It's the same size as USA Today and the Wall Street Journal."

So the Statesman aims to give us the cursory insights of the USA Today, without the fact checking; hold up your new Statesman to the WSJ and tell us it's the same size. (See for proof.)

—Nathaniel Hoffman

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, March 3, 2009, 4,254 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,417 in combat and 837 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 31,089. In the last week, five U.S. soldiers died.

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 25 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 90,892 and 99,242.


COST OF IRAQ WAR: $601,620,225,258


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