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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The last time Romney stonewalled on taxes

You may wonder why Romney thinks he can shut off demands to release several years' worth of tax returns, as other presidential candidates have done in recent years, like this:
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: When are you going to release more of your taxes and how many years?

ROMNEY: I've indicated that -- well, first of all, we've complied with the law. The law requires us to put out a full financial disclosure. That I've done. And then, in addition to that, I've already put out one year of tax returns. We'll put out the next year of tax returns as soon as the accountants have that ready. And that's what we're going to put out.

I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more. And, you know, we're putting out what is required plus more that is not required. And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that's -- that's all that's necessary for people to understand something about my finances. And, look, if people believe this should be a campaign about attacking one another on a personal basis and go back to the kinds of attacks that were suggested in some campaigns in the past, I don't want to go there.

The thing is, he's gotten away with it before. When he came home to Massachusetts swathed in Olympic glory to run for governor in spring 2002, Democrats challenged his residency status.*  They wouldn't have been able to if he had maintained dual residency.  But there was a tax break to be had by declaring his Utah house his primary residence, and Have-it-Both-Ways Romney went for it. The New York Times reported on 6/6/02:

Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for governor, faced the first serious obstacle today in his campaign with a report in The Boston Globe that he saved $54,000 in property taxes by claiming his multimillion dollar Utah house as his primary residence.
Well, a lot of us would save $54k in taxes if we legally could. But a now-familiar figure assured the world that Mitt would never consciously do so:
A spokesman for Mr. Romney, Eric Fehrnstrom, said the tax break had been the result of a ''clerical error'' by officials in Summit County, Utah and had not been sought by Mr. Romney.
Does that convenient fall of fortune give you a sense of deja vu?  So will the way it holds up under scrutiny:
Barbara Kresser, the Summit County assessor, agreed that the tax break had been a mistake made by a combination of a lower level assessor and a computer. But Ms. Kresser said the tax bills Mr. Romney was sent for his house in Park City were clearly marked with the words ''primary property,'' meaning that his house was being treated as his primary residence, not a secondary home.

The difference, under Utah law, is major. Nonresidents pay taxes on 100 percent of the assessed value of a home. Residents pay taxes on only 55 percent of the assessed value.

Mr. Romney's house, high on a bluff in the expensive Deer Valley section overlooking Park City, was assessed at $3.8 million in 1999, but he paid taxes on only 55 percent of that valuation, Ms. Kresser said. Normally, it is extremely difficult for nonresidents to have their homes reclassified as primary residences, Ms. Kresser said, and they must show proof like drivers licenses, voter registration and documentation that they live in Utah more than half the year.
Two days later, when the Democrats formally challenged his status, the accusations followed a now-familiar pattern:
James Roosevelt, the party's legal counsel, said Mr. Romney did not meet the residency requirement because he had paid state income taxes as a resident of Utah in 1999 and 2000, while running the Winter Olympics there, and had also won a 45 percent reduction in property taxes on his Park City, Utah, home by saying it was his primary residence.

''This is a guy who was trying to have it both ways,'' Mr. Roosevelt said.
And Romney had to wriggle in now-familiar fashion:
Mr. Romney insisted until Thursday that he had paid his taxes as a Massachusetts resident during his three years in Utah. Then he acknowledged that in 1999 and 2000 he paid his state taxes as a Utah resident and listed himself as nonresident of Massachusetts.

In April, after deciding to run for governor here, Mr. Romney admitted having amended his tax returns for those two years to say he was really a resident of Massachusetts
Democrats and reporters naturally wondered whether Romney saved not only on his property taxes but also on his income taxes by declaring residency in Utah, where capital gains taxes are lower. Romney first told the Boston Globe that he would answer questions posed in writing. Globe reporters cott Bernard Nelson and Rick Klein report what happened next: (6/8/02, "Tax Benefit Unclear and Candidate Mum" - sorry, no link):
But after a reporter submitted written questions to a campaign aide, Romney's spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, said that Romney would not be responding because "he values his privacy and his wife's privacy."

A few minutes later, pressed on whether he benefited financially in Utah by filing as a resident there and a nonresident in Massachusetts, he said: "That's as far as I'm telling you, that's it. That's the answer I'm going to give you, and that's all I got."
I don't think that approach is going to fly this time.

* Apologies for redeploying material broadly similar to some of Thursday's post. I think I buried the lede a bit that time.

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