Bloomberg moved an article today saying Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, “has been taking advantage of a tax break for a home in Maryland that he claims as his principal residence,” to the effect that in 2007 and 2008 he “saved a total of $3,853 in state and Anne Arundel County taxes on a Maryland waterfront home that he claims as his primary residence, according to Maryland tax disclosures.”
The California Republican Party wasted no time in sending the article out to reporters as one of those “In Case You Missed It” e-mail blasts. I talked to Stark today, and he doesn’t see the big deal.
“I’ve owned this house I believe since 1988 … and I believe I’ve had this exemption all that time,” he said. “In ‘07, Maryland changed their law and said if people were going to get the principal residence deduction, they had to affirmatively apply and be approved. Prior to that, I had never heard from them.”
“So in January, I got a form and it asked those questions: Do I live in this house more than six months a year and over a period of July 1? The answer is yes. Do I file Maryland and federal income tax from this address? Yes. Do I vote at this address? No. Do I have my driver’s license here? No.”
Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says a member of Congress must “when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.” Stark – elected to the House in 1972, and now second-ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee as well as chair of its influential Health Subcommittee – said he rents a home in Fremont and occupies it when back here in his district to satisfy that constitutional requirement.
More after the jump…
As the Bloomberg article notes, the Associated Press recently reported a similar story about Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY; Maryland authorities have now disallowed his primary residence deduction. Stark said he understands Maryland has about 180,000 applications for the deduction to wade through: “My guess is sometime this year they will deny my principal residence deduction and my taxes will go up, end of story. It was nice while it lasted.”
But he doesn’t see anything wrong with what he has done in years past, he said.
“If I owned a house in California, there’s no way I could’ve taken the principal residence deduction here” in Maryland, Stark said. “But my guess is we spend two-thirds of the time here, my kids go to school here in Maryland. By any definition of where I spend most of the time, it would be in the Washington, DC area – this is where I work.”
So taking the deduction, he said, seemed fair; if Maryland’s new rules disallow it, he’s OK with that, too.
Stark said he hears reporters might be sniffing around another of his personal financial situations.
Soon after President George W. Bush took office, a former Clinton White House official who had become a lobbyist rented a D.C. townhouse from Stark. Stark said before entering into the lease, he had asked House Ethics Committee staffers whether it was OK for a member of Congress to rent property to a lobbyist, and they advised him that it was. Several months later, he said, Ethics Committee member Stephanie Tubbs Jones informed him that it wasn’t quite kosher, and he that he should move to end the lease as soon as possible. He did so, the lobbyist moved out and that was that, he said.
UPDATE @ 1:50 P.M. THURSDAY 3/26: Hey, guess what? This happens on both sides of the aisle.