An Interview with Idaho State Tax Commission Chair Ken RobertsAdded by John McGown, Jr. in Articles & Blogs, Tax Law on October 30, 2017
This article was originally published in State Tax Notes, October 23, 2017, p. 303READ Original >> McGown 10.23.17
Your youth was spent in rural Valley County, Idaho. Please describe it, as well as how it affects your current perspective.
There are a number of factors that carried on to my life as an adult that are principles and things that I learned from my upbringing. I was raised on a family farm. It was homesteaded by my grandfather, and I was a third-generation farmer there. I think there’s a couple of items that taught me some significant things. One was my dad taught me a great work ethic. He worked a lot, taught both my sister and me how to work, and I think that principle has helped me carry through things in my life, stick to a project until it’s done, and try to do a thorough job when I do it. My mother is an inspiration to me as far as keeping track of things. She was the bookkeeper for the family farm and made sure that things were done on time, and she taught me how to keep my own books and my own records. So, those two people taught me some of the basic foundations and principles that carry me through.
But I think one of the other things that was formative for me is my dad started to turn over part of the family farm to me when I was 21-22 years old. It was my responsibility to get those things done, and then over the years I started doing more of the management, more of the operations, and whatnot. I had another construction business as well during the economic boom, that was the right thing to do. Even today I still pay the bills and write the checks for the farming operation alongside the job I have as an Idaho state tax commissioner in Boise. I think staying engaged with that as a taxpayer and as a business owner and dealing with the regulations and tax forms, all the things we have to do, whether it be withholding payments, or doing the taxes. I obviously have an accountant help now to do my taxes, but I think those principles and being engaged and staying engaged with that has really helped me as a tax administrator to know what it’s like to be on both sides of the tax issues, not only as a taxpayer and business owner but also as a tax administrator. I always run those proposals that we come up with at the tax commission; I run those through that lens of how am I going to deal with this as a professional farmer or any other business owner? How is it going to affect my bottom line? How is it going to affect my time, and how burdensome is what’s being asked?
You were a representative in the Idaho Legislature, including time on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. What was that experience like, and how has that experience carried over to the Idaho State Tax Commission?
I originally got involved in public policy by serving for eight years on a local school board in our home community and had an interest in property tax at the time based on how school funding formulas worked in Idaho. It was through that process that I got more exposed to the legislative process. I was asked by the individual who held the seat if I would consider running for his seat because he was choosing not to run, and I considered it and decided to do it. I was elected originally in 2000. I served my first session in 2001 and for the next 12 years I sat on the Revenue and Taxation Committee. I also served in House leadership for six of those years as caucus chairman. I learned a lot about building consensus and trying to accomplish major goals, but to do that, you had to bring people together. It took me a few years to figure that out.
I was naturally drawn to tax issues. I had, and still have, a passion for good tax policy. Of course, today I view it a little bit differently through the lens of a tax administrator. As a legislator, I viewed it as something that made sense if it was fair to all the taxpayers. Was it fair to my constituents? I had that sense coming to the commission and bringing that knowledge to the commission. There’s been several times in my last five years as a state tax commissioner where I said I wished I would have known then what I know today. I was referring to my legislative years because it’s easy to make decisions and make policy with a partial view of things, but when you look at the administration side of it, it expands your view, and there are things I wish I would have known earlier.
I think the other thing that it helped me bring to the job at the tax commission is a sense of what political acceptance is. I think I have a keen sense of what it’s like to have to deal with government and bureaucracy both from my past experiences of my growing-up years, my businesses, and as a state legislator. That helps me today in my job to see things that will make common sense and that are easily followed. I try to provide clarity for taxpayers. It’s sometimes a real challenge. It’s all those things put together. That gives you, what I feel, is a well-rounded perspective.
You were appointed to the Idaho State Tax Commission by Gov. Butch Otter (R) in July 2012. What was the selection process?
I had previously been contacted by a couple senior legislators, and also had talked with the governor’s office about serving. I got a phone call and was asked if I would consider it again, so I applied.
There were a number of people who applied. There was an interview process and they interviewed three of four candidates. My interview was with the governor and one of his staff members, and I just spoke from my heart of what I believed about tax policy, and of course at that time, I didn’t know a lot about administration, but I’ve always tried to be a very fair individual and I talked about that, and that’s some of the things that helped me get the job.
And then there’s a follow-up to the appointment, which is confirmation by the Idaho Senate.
Right. I was originally appointed to fill a vacancy that had been created and I served the balance of that term for about eight months. I went through my initial confirmation early in the 2013 session. I had a lot of colleagues in the Legislature. It was more of a jovial process, and some ribbing and kidding back and forth. I made sure my mother came, and she sat in the front row and I jokingly told them, “If you guys start treating me too rough, you’re going to have to talk to my mother,” so that confirmation hearing lasted just a few minutes. Congratulatory, pretty easy.
I was then reappointed by the governor in May 2013, and I had to go back through the confirmation process again in 2014. That confirmation hearing was substantially different than the first, and I think the reason being is the commission had been through some — I’ll call them growing pains — and some changes. Legislators wanted answers to some very tough questions. They needed information as policy-setters. They wanted to know why certain industry groups were upset. They wanted to know how the commission was dealing with some controversial issues. That confirmation process started off somewhat similar to the first one the year previous, but quickly turned into a time of answering questions that were much more detailed and very serious, and I was at the stand for over an hour answering questions.
In all fairness to legislators, they needed answers and I had at that time been at the commission for about a year and a half, and I felt like I had a basis of knowledge to be able to answer those questions in a way that they needed to hear. A lot of it was on different types of taxation, whether it was taxation of software, some of the audits and procedures that had been done, and some of the potential conflicts about hearings. So, they needed some answers and I needed to give answers to them.
The Idaho State Tax Commission has four commissioners and one of them, Rich Jackson, is retiring. Will you be operating with three commissioners for some time?
It’s very likely. It could be an extended time; it could be a very short time. That decision is at the sole discretion of the governor’s office to name a replacement. And we’ll see how that comes about, but I anticipate they’ll have a selection process that will probably involve interviews and ultimately the governor will make that decision, and when that happens, we’ll be back up to four commissioners. However, in the meantime, I will divvy up the responsibilities among the other two commissioners. We are a very hands-on organization and we’ll get the job done.
How is the Idaho State Tax Commission organized?
It’s interesting how Idaho is a little bit unique compared to quite a few of the states. One of the good things about having multiple commissioners is you have a plurality of leadership and there is some accountability that happens between the four commissioners. There’s no more than two from any one political party can serve at one time. Terms are staggered and the terms extend beyond the term of a governor so they provide some consistency across governorships, which is important. Generally, there are four commissioners, and one is designated by the governor as the chairman and serves at the will of the governor. We divide up tax types, whether it be individual income tax, sales and use tax, multistate tax or property tax — which are the big four that we do. Additionally we have a number of other tax types, such as fuels, beer and wine, and other product taxes. And we have the same four commissioners that have oversight over different operations of the agency as well — whether it be the processing audit, collections, or appeals. There’s also general management, including human resources so it keeps the commissioners engaged in the process, which I think is a good thing.
You mentioned that no more than two commissioners can be from the same political party. Many of the commissioners, both past and present, have a political background. What role does politics play at the commission, especially at the commissioner level?
When I first walked in the door at the commission, I anticipated and expected that there would be political disagreements between commissioners. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that that never came up. It’s a rare, rare case when something political will come up between the commissioners. In fact, I think in my more than five years of being at the commission I cannot count more than one or two instances where it came up. Now granted, there is the ribbing, kidding, and joking between commissioners about political parties, but when it comes to decision-making, it’s a nonissue because our responsibility is to administer taxes. If we ever get to that point of having a political debate at the commission that means we are overstepping a boundary that we should not. We are to administer the tax law. If we’re trying to influence it based on political preference, that’s not the role of the tax commission.
Have there been times that a lawmaker or somebody from the executive branch expects special treatment or anything of that nature?
I don’t know if there’s been cases like that. In my case and in Commissioner [Elliot] Werk’s case, we both were past legislators. We had colleagues we trusted and they would call us, and still do because they know us and that’s the realm at which they operate. But it’s more of a preference of whom they want to talk to. I’ve not had a case where I’ve had legislators try to work a deal or get special treatment. We’re quick to point out that we administer the tax law.
Many states have an executive director to manage their taxing agency. What are your views on that structure?
I briefly touched on it in a previous question about the plurality of leadership, and I think for some states an executive director position might be appropriate. There’s a couple factors that come into play. One would be how many tax types they administer, the size of the state is a significant issue. For a couple very good reasons I like the commissioners with a hands-on approach because then you’re engaged. We are engaged as commissioners. We understand the budget. We understand the human resources issues that we’re dealing with. We will be in tune with employees who work at the commission. We’ll understand when somebody’s had an illness in their family and it’s a very tightknit group. In Idaho, we have about 460 employees and it’s fairly small. We like it that way — we’re engaged, and I think we get a better administration from the commissioners when they are hands-on. We are forced to understand some of the tax issues, however sometimes it’s drinking from a firehose, but we do understand.
There were some internal issues at the commission at the time of your appointment in
- What challenges did you see from an agency standpoint? And from a personal standpoint?
Well, I think from an agency standpoint — prior to my arrival at the commission — there was kind of an underlying nonverbalized expectation that the tax commission and the revenue department were here to bring in money. I think the focus and some of the motivation was: Is the effort worthwhile? Does it bring revenue into the state? The focus started to shift away from taxpayers, staff, and things that make a difference in people’s lives. All of us have strengths and weaknesses in our leadership styles, but for me, when I came I wanted to focus on uniformity in tax administration. I wanted to focus on fairness. I wanted to focus on supporting employees and encouraging them to be successful in the work that they do and giving them the tools they need to be successful. Whether it be a computer, training, or even supporting them in a difficult situation. I believe ultimately that starts to transform employees at the tax commission and how they treat and serve taxpayers as well.
I have a unique philosophy about the pyramid with the CEO on the top and the staff and other people are at the bottom. I take that concept and flip the triangle completely upside down where I think it’s my job as the chairman of the agency to do everything in my power to support the individuals that are in management, oversight, or program managers. Give them the tools and support them, and help them be successful and ultimately they will support their staff, and ultimately we then support the citizens of the state to help them be successful in their businesses and in their livelihood. That’s a different concept than is typically out there. But I believe very strongly in that. It’s a different type of leadership.
From an enforcement standpoint, the four commissioners have to serve three competing roles: managing the audit staff, independently judging the merits of a protested case leading to a written decision, and negotiating the possible settlement of protested cases to resolve uncertain issues and preserve commission resources. Those different roles create awkward situations for both the commissioners and for taxpayers and their representatives. How have you been able to deal with those different roles?
I will say this — it’s definitely a balancing act. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between the letter of the law, the spirit of the law, political acceptance — or I should rephrase that — not political acceptance, but probably societal acceptance of what is fair and what is not fair. There’s certainly cases that we have where there’ll be a tax protestor who is purposely trying to break the law or habitual practices of a taxpayer who just ignores the timeliness issue or the accuracy issues and they want to continue in that style. And so, trying to balance that and really listening to taxpayers and what they’re dealing with has been for me one of the challenges I face when trying to strike that appropriate balance. Trying to understand the spirit of the law is important in striking that balance. We do have limited resources as you said, and sometimes in taxation, there are gray areas and one just can’t get to the exact answer, and you have to say — and I think taxpayers agree — you know what, that’s probably close enough in this case. In some of the larger cases and more complex cases you strike that chord where you believe it’s a fair line and you move on. Now there are cases where it’s important to establish a concept in law where you want to take a case up and get a court decision on it. I’m not afraid to take a case to litigation, but yet at the same time I think we have to be wise in those cases that we do allow to go to litigation.
You mentioned earlier that there seemed to be a perception by many of the staff, especially on the audit side, that the mission was to raise revenue for the state and certainly that’s true on the audit selection criteria. The test seems to be whether this particular return has potential to raise revenue. There are individuals who overpay their tax because of fear of the tax commission or other reasons. Do you think there will ever be a situation where those returns might be selected for audit to give people greater refunds?
I don’t know if it’ll be purposely sought out to select those for refunds, but I can tell you that one of the things that we’ve tried to do is change the culture to arriving at the correct answer. I think there’s a vast difference between trying to maximize revenue versus arriving at the right answer. Prior to my coming to the tax commission when some audits were done and there was an error made by the taxpayers for the taxpayer’s behalf it was not addressed, and cases where refunds were issued, I strongly support that. Generally it’s the other way around where taxpayers usually are motivated to not send in quite everything that they should and then of course the audit selection criteria and analytics are built with that in mind, but it’s important that we try to impress upon both our audit staff and others that when there is an error made that would result in a benefit back to the taxpayer, you need to follow through with it and see that that money is refunded.
One of your initiatives was to review the internal appeals process. What were your concerns? Describe your approach in conducting the review.
I want to go back to what I walked into in the agency and some of the culture and some of the things that had happened. And I know that our governor’s office had selected a task force to study the structure of the commission and the appeals process. Having seen that take place, I felt it was really important to take a proactive step and create a better separation between the division that created the deficiency, the appeals unit, and the tax policy unit. In the last 24 months or so, we have taken some steps, and it’s been approved by the Legislature both a statutory and budget standpoint to create some of that separation.
I think it’s really important from a taxpayer’s perspective. If my business gets audited and I talk to my auditor about the situation and for some reason I disagree, it’s really important when I appeal I’m getting a fresh look at my case. We also want to make sure that there’s not communication happening behind the scenes that the taxpayer is not a party to. And so, those are some of the things that we corrected, giving transparency so that the taxpayer really feels and knows that they’ve been given a fresh look at their case. Those should be guaranteed to taxpayers and I think it’s been a great improvement. We’re just starting to see some of the fruits of that. They’re in the very early stages right now. In some states the tax appeals portion of revenue departments is a completely separate department. They have nothing to do with the revenue department. Wyoming is one of those where they have a completely separate entity in a separate building.
Did you have any internal resistance from the audit staff to the new appeals process?
I don’t think we had resistance. It’s a bit of a game changer, and I think for the most part the audit staff has been very supportive of it and they understand why. I think a key component of what we did was to explain why and to talk about it with all the staff. We talked about this in our all-employee meetings when we have the entire agency in the auditorium. We talked about why we were splitting the tax policy and the appeals units and the legislation that would create the communication transparency for the taxpayers.
How has the commission improved since 2012?
I think the two things that we are working on and have really brought forward in the last four or five years is a customer service perspective and an education perspective — especially the education just recently in the last year or two. We think it’s important to provide taxpayers with the correct information in a form that they want — whether it be electronic, whether it be in a form — and we’re working on that. We have hundreds of forms; we have thousands of paragraphs and letters to rewrite. We think it makes a lot of sense to make those easily understandable. I also believe that we have a much better rapport with the Legislature and the governor’s office today than we had years ago.
What changes do you see in the future? You might describe the commission’s strategic plan in that regard.
This is a big question. I want to lump them into a couple categories. One is technology. It will continue to drive change within our agency. I go back in history and see what computers have done, iPads, now smart phones, and what’s next that the revenue department is going to have to adapt to be able to interact with taxpayers. I think we’re going to have generational challenges as the workforce changes, as the baby boomers retire, and the Generation Xers and millennials take those leadership roles — a lot of those people don’t stay with a job for 30 years. They come in, work a job for five years, and then they go on to something else. I think those are going to be challenges in keeping consistency and transfer of knowledge going in an agency. We’re going to have to remain flexible with different industries and how new products are developed and those kinds of things.
One of the changes that’s coming up we’ve been dealing with in Idaho and in the IRS is identity theft and fraud. There’s been a lot of improvement in the last couple years on states’ fraud prevention and identify theft, and the IRS is stepping up to the plate as well. But what’s happening because of those defensive mechanisms have been put in places by states and by the IRS, now the criminal is taking their fight to a different front. They’re taking it to the local CPA firm. They’re taking it to a local business and they’re attacking their systems, and one of our challenges is going to be trying to educate businesses and CPA firms as to their vulnerabilities and that they need to be diligent in protecting their data. We’ve seen that growing in the last 12 to 18 months, and I think that will continue.
You mentioned the new generation often spends five years at a job instead of 30 or 40. A person who I think knows more about Idaho state taxes than anybody in the world is Ted Spangler. Spangler has retired from the commission, but his institutional knowledge was immense. He worked with your deputy [attorneys general] to pass along his knowledge, but is it safe to assume he is still missed?
He is. I don’t know the right word or term to describe Ted, but he was, or is, a mind full of tax knowledge that is unprecedented. I was just recently at a national conference and Ted’s name was mentioned probably 15 or 20 times during the period of three days. We’re fortunate to have him not too many blocks away from the commission’s office. We have brought him in on occasion since his retirement to help us out on specific projects, and as long as he is able and willing, I will continue to draw on that resource.
For a small state, Idaho has a large national presence in state and local tax. Rich Jackson is the immediate past chair of the Multistate Tax Commission. You serve on the MTC Executive Committee and have a significant role with the Federation of Tax Administrators, as first vice president. Would you describe the different roles of the two organizations?
Sure. The FTA is a cutting-edge organization. It deals with a lot of issues surrounding processing; administration; functionality of the agency; giving new approaches, especially in the identity theft and fraud areas; detection analytics; the kinds of things that deal with the day-to-day operations of an agency. There’s a great exchange of information between the states — and now other nations in the world are now starting to attend some of the FTA conferences. Not only do they come to learn, but they also share what they’re encountering as well. So, I think that’s more the FTA role.
The MTC really fits its name. The MTC was formed in 1967 — it’s 50 years old this year. It was formed to deal with the apportionment issue of multistate companies as you well know. Trying to provide some uniformity, some consistency, not only for states, but ultimately for the taxpayers so that they could expect to be treated somewhat similar between multiple states. The audit function of the MTC conducts the technical audits of those companies, and we will continue to have discussion in the MTC about uniformity and how incomes are treated in different scenarios. Again, I’m not the expert — I know enough about it to probably get myself in trouble. But that role of the MTC is really important for not only the taxpayer but also for the tax administration agency.
The MTC has taken a bold step with its amnesty program for remote sellers using online marketplaces. The program started August 17 and runs through October 17. What was the impetus behind the program? How does it work?
The actual name of it is the Online Marketplace Seller’s Voluntary Disclosure Agreement Initiative — long term, long title. I think the emphasis of it is linked to what is known as the Marketplace Fairness Act. There’s been a lot of frustration, not only with businesses that compete with a physical presence in a state, and that number is growing as they market their products. And with states, there is a consistent frustration with lawmakers on the federal level to inadequately deal with the situation because there are polarized camps in Washington, D.C., on the issue as to whether the taxation should occur or not.
I think it’s unlikely that the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate will ever arrive at a decision or a compromise that will pass. I believe that the answer to this situation lies in the states, and the state laws will be challenged in their courts and then appealed to the Supreme Court. We’re seeing that starting to unfold now in a number of cases based out of Colorado, based on the reporting issue. Alabama had the administrative rule that was passed and now in South Dakota, which really will be the case, that I think’s going to challenge the Quill case.
I’m going to call it a window of opportunity, for businesses to sign up with the state, get their permit to collect and remit the sales tax in that state with — depending on the state — no lookback period. That window is open. The sign-up period started August 17 and goes through October 17 for the purpose of starting to collect and remit that tax based on a start date of December 1, 2017. For businesses that may wonder whether they have an economic nexus or physical presence issue, in some states they can sign up for that, depending on the state. In Idaho we’re not going to have a lookback to sign up. I know that’s one of your other questions and we’re not having a minimum threshold, so if they do business they can get the permit, start collecting and remitting, and become a taxpayer, and they’ll collect the tax for the sale. We’ll see how successful it is. I know in some of the other states that have promoted it on their own initiative, they’ve had significant success of getting businesses to sign up, so I think this is an opportunity. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see if there’s another potential sign-up in the future, but right now this is the only one that’s available.
Can you elaborate on the Idaho specifics to the MTC amnesty program, including any notice to the public?
I’ve previously talked about the no minimum thresholds and no lookback period. We have some information on our website. The certified service providers are the entities that provide the software for these companies — and there’s about 45,000 of these companies nationwide — all CSP providers are stepping up over the next months to promote the sign-up with those states that are participating. I’m not sure how many states are participating at this moment, but I think it’s around 17 or 18 states. Some of the business publications nationally are also promoting it — and again I don’t know the particulars — but I know the MTC is reaching out to other avenues to help promote it, and we’re participating at the state level here as much as we can through our website and newsletters.
Focusing on the FTA, where do you see it five years from now?
I think much of it would probably be the same role as it is today. I see them facilitating innovative ideas that are working with revenue departments throughout the states and throughout the world. I think that role will continue very much the same [way] it was originally when it was first formed, and if I can be a part of helping facilitate those forums for that information exchange, that’s a goal that I would have at the FTA.
What are the biggest challenges for the Idaho State Tax Commission? How is it addressing these challenges?
The common theme that I’m trying to portray is, I think it goes back to customer service, and it’s really changing a culture within an agency. We’ve talked about it for a long time. We’re starting to implement changes about letters so they’re easily understood — really customer service, and that can take a while to transition in an agency.
Each of the four commissioners has areas of oversight. Your areas have included business taxes, especially large entities operating both in and out of Idaho. It can be a complex area; how did you get up to speed?
I don’t know if I’m up to speed yet, but I will tell you this, I think a lot of things in my life you just jump in and you start immersing yourself with the terms that are used in multistate taxation. I have gone out and gotten some training. I attended an interstate tax seminar class to try to learn concepts and perspectives not only from other tax administrators but also businesses that deal with multistate tax issues. I try to understand the basics and I depend a lot on the guidance from the experts. I cannot be an expert in all fields. We administer about 20 different tax types and property taxes on top of that, and like I said, I can’t be the expert, but I do lean heavily on our legal staff for guidance on these complex issues in multistate.
Voluntary compliance is a major focus of any taxing authority. What has the commission done to increase voluntary compliance? Have you seen any disturbing trends?
I will say that the perfect day at the Idaho State Tax Commission is when the phone doesn’t ring. It’s when the audits that are performed all result in no change audits; it’s when taxpayers fill out every form correctly and accurately. That’s the perfect day at the tax commission. Because if that happens, you have 100 percent compliance and all would run smoothly. That’s not reality; that’s not what’s happening today. So, to find out how to get to that point, it’s important that we start tracking some things. Let’s find out why the telephone rings at the tax commission. Last year we answered about 130,000 phone calls. This year the number’s down slightly. We’re tracking why people call. What issues do they have? Do they have a question about sales tax, and if it’s in sales tax, what area of sales? If they have a question about their taxpayer access point to their online account, what are they struggling with? What do they need to know? Did they forget a password? Did they have a question that something’s not working right or not posted? Did they have a question about “where’s my refund?” — a huge call volume for us, especially during different times of the year. In the audit division, what are the top 10 audit findings where there’s noncompliance in income tax and sales and use tax? In revenue operations, where are things not filled out correctly or where are wrong items put in the wrong cells?
What I’ve encouraged us to do as an agency is ask ourselves, if that’s the top 10 noncompliant issues that we’re seeing, or the top reasons why the phone rings, what are we doing about it? And that drives decision-making. Are the instructions clear? Do the taxpayers understand a certain aspect in, let’s say, the used car industry? Do they understand trade-in values and bad debt on trade-in values? In the building industry, do they understand improvements to real property and is the sales tax due or is it not due? And what are we doing about it? Are our forms and institutions clear, and are they easily understood? Those things are what customer service is about, and it’s one of the reasons we purposely changed the structure of the tax commission about a year ago, and we established the taxpayer resource unit in the communications department. It’s the tax policy folks that help answer those questions when the phone rings. So, we’re making concentrated effort to increase outreach efforts both for education and ultimately tax compliance. We want people to understand and do the right thing on the front end instead of having them go through an audit and having an audit finding and having to pay interest and penalties. That’s not a good experience for anybody. Let’s work on the front end. Let’s be proactive. Those are some things that I think really work toward voluntary compliance.
I appreciate your insight. Are there any final thoughts you would like to pass along to State Tax Notes readers?
Well, a couple things. I’ll just say that Idaho’s tax agency resides in a leased facility, and that facility has sold. We’re going to have to move an entire agency over the course of the next 12 to 18 months. That will be a very challenging move for us, but I have great confidence in our staff and our IT department to get up and running — so that’s one of the big hurdles I see.
I have a couple things I’d like to talk about when it comes to tax policy, and this is going to be with my old legislative hat on and my tax administrative hat on. One is I think the tax structure in our states and in our federal government is sorely in need of a review. It has become so complex, it is very difficult for businesses and individuals to follow. It probably should have some sunsets built in to force policymakers to actually address what the current policies should be for generating revenue to provide the public services that are demanded today.
Our economy has changed drastically over the last 100 years in this country. 150 years in some states. I know in Idaho’s case, we’re a fairly young state when you look at all 50 states. In the 1800s there was a property tax and there was a poll tax, but the property tax was predominantly the tax that provided the roads and the limited services. Then as things changed over time, they looked for more revenue and Idaho adopted an income tax in the 1930s, and then in 1965 Idaho adopted a sales and use tax. I’m convinced that as the economy has changed over time, and especially since 1965, our tax structure has been remodeled, tacked on to, spliced together. It’s like the trailer that’s been added onto 15 times and it’s got 5 different roof lines. Is that structure appropriate for today? Are we dealing with some fundamental issues that should be addressed by revenue departments and policymakers that are responsible for providing a source of revenue for those services that are enjoyed by individuals? It’s just a question, and I think it’s a question that needs to be answered by policymakers. The legislators need to set the policy. They need to do their job, and I guess this would be a call to them to step up and have a concentrated effort on evaluating the effectiveness and the correct nexus for tax policy. And what we’ve seen happen in the last 30 to 40 years is we’ve created a lot of exemptions, credits, exclusions to taxation for specific purposes. One industry will come in and lobby and get a credit. Is that credit still serving the purpose of what it was formed and set up for? Those are questions that need to be answered by policy-setters, from a tax administrator’s point of view and a taxpayer’s point of view. I want to stress that, both for the taxpayer and for the administrators of taxation. It’s a disservice to both of those entities when we have tax law that is so complex. It’s important that we review from time to time to make sure we have a policy of taxation that represents the current economy. So just some observations, editorial comments.
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