POST FALLS - Rep. Phil Hart has had a tough year.
Well, a tough decade, really.
"I feel like an actor in a B Hollywood movie," the Athol legislator said on Friday, speaking to the Panhandle Pachyderm Club. "I know it's a lousy movie, but I have to get through it."
Speaking to the crowd of fellow Republicans in the Garden Plaza senior living facility in Post Falls, Hart discussed the birth of his income tax suspicions and the long road to his current litigation with the IRS and the recent House Ethics Committee investigation.
If anything, he has only come out more confident that income tax is unconstitutional, he said.
"Of all the research I've done, 100 percent backs up my interpretation of income tax," Hart said. "There isn't anything that backs up the government interpretation."
It all started with a little light reading, he said.
He discovered a book in 1995 about the flaws of the income tax system, which led him to read others.
"I believe what I read," the third-term legislator said. "So I thought I would dive in."
He really did.
In 1996 when he filed his tax returns, he filed for a refund of all the taxes he had already paid.
He would also sue the IRS for that refund, he added.
"That started years of legal battles with the IRS," he said.
Defending his cause led him to delve deeper into research, he said. And once he started digging, he couldn't stop.
"I thought, 'I'm going to study what the intent of the American people was in adding the income tax amendment, and that should shed light on what the Internal Revenue code does say,'" he said.
He sought an answer across the country, by looking up records of congressional debates from the early 20th century. His rampant photocopying branched out to legal and accounting journals from the same years, and news articles, too.
His research took him from the University of Idaho at Moscow to the Gonzaga Law library, to the U.S. Supreme Court Library in Washington, D.C.
"I was coming up with so much information I hadn't seen in income tax literature," Hart said. "I thought, 'Well, it's on me to write a book.'"
That's "Constitutional Income: Do You Have Any?" It spans the breadth of all his research of income tax history, and how Hart believes the current income tax was never the nation's plan.
The justice system didn't buy it, though.
After 17 months, the tax court ruled against him, dubbing his argument frivolous.
"In law textbooks, frivolous is defined as obviously wrong at first blush," he said. "If it was frivolous, why did it take 17 months?"
He lost an appeal at the 9th Circuit Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court didn't hear the case, he said.
"My choice was, 'Do I revisit this? Or did I give it my best shot and move on?'" he said.
Moving on, it was.
Unfortunately, that meant filing several years worth of returns.
He has paid $120,000 in income taxes over the past few years, he said.
He was also audited on eight returns at once, which concluded in him being denied $300,000 in deductions over about 8 years.
He's still in litigation over that, he said. He is confident that once he has access to his IRS report he can set things right.
"I'm still revisiting that. I'm on Plan C right now," said Hart, who owns Alpine Engineering.
He's glad the media frenzy is calming down on the matter so he can get back to work, he said, adding, "Sometimes I get burned out on this stuff."
He still has to face one more investigation from a House Ethics Committee, which cleared him of a conflict-of-interest charge this year.
There is still a charge of exploiting his legislative position to postpone litigation with the IRS, he said, but he isn't worried.
"There isn't a legal authority, a court case or anything else, that would conflict with what I've done," he said.
He doesn't think he will be victorious over income tax in his current legal battle, he admitted.
"Sometimes it takes a really long time to make change," he said, pointing to the abolition of slavery. "I think it will be solved politically, not judicially."
Hart, who is up for re-election in November, added that he would like to see income tax done away with and a national sales tax instated.
He's writing another book, he said.
"I'm going to stick with it," he said.