CONCORD — Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein and his wife “are proceeding with due caution” on the state of Maryland’s demand that it repay $9,000 in back property taxes that they were credited through a homestead exemption from 2007 through 2011, a campaign spokesman said Thursday.
The state Ballot Law Commission on June 30 ruled, 3-2, that Havenstein has been domiciled in New Hampshire for at least seven years – as the state Constitution requires in order to become a candidate for governor. Havenstein’s critics responded that if he was an inhabitant of New Hampshire during those years, then he committed “tax fraud” in Maryland. They cited the fact that he had a condominium there and claimed it as his “primary residence” in order to receive the tax break.
On Wednesday, various news outlets reported that with Havenstein having been ruled a New Hampshire inhabitant, Maryland officials now want Havenstein to return the tax break he received after claiming the condominium as his primary residence.
Robert E. Young, director of Maryland’s Assessment and Taxation Department, told WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Union Leader that Havenstein was not entitled to the break and accepted it inappropriately because he was a resident of New Hampshire, and not Maryland, at the time. He told the Union Leader that to qualify for the break home in Maryland “must be your one, primary residence where you reside for more than six months in one year.” He said Havenstein has 30 days to pay the bill or face interest or penalties.
The Havenstein campaign called the move by the Maryland tax office politically-motivated. The campaign said Walt and Judy Havenstein recently received bills from a tax office “with no explanation for them,” while the explanation was given to “news outlets.” It called that “deeply troubling” for taxpayers.
“If the intent of the tax office was simply to settle this matter, they would have provided an explanation,” said spokesman Henry Goodwin. “The fact that they instead leaked it to the media suggests that their motivation was political.”
The New Hampshire Journal Thursday asked the campaign if the Havensteins will pay the bill, appeal it, or follow some other course.
“The Havensteins are proceeding with due caution,” he replied, “given how the State of Maryland has politicized this issue by talking to the media. They have received no explanation for the tax bill from the State of Maryland and the public comments made by Mr. Young have been inconsistent and contradict the facts.”
The Havenstein campaign pointed out that Havenstein actually did reside in Maryland for more than six months in each year that he received the exemption. He also paid income taxes to the state of Maryland as a full year resident, based on the fact that he was there for more than six months out of each year.
Former Gov. John H. Sununu was quoted in a Havenstein campaign press release saying Democrats were behind move by the Maryland tax agency.
“The Democrats are good at having issues like this just pop up,” Sununu said. “They have tried to smear Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Rick Perry and they used the IRS to persecute conservatives. It is no surprise that something like this would show up from Maryland, which has a Democratic governor, just three weeks before our primary.”
Sununu was referring to Gov. Martin O’Malley, an occasional visitor to New Hampshire, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and an ally of Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Sununu said the “gross abuse of power” was being used as a “smoke screen” to cover what he called Hassan’s “failure” at managing the state budget.
On Thursday, state Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley wrote Havenstein an open letter, saying in part, “Given the amount of attention your tax issues have already received, it is hard to fathom that you would require further explanation. The State of Maryland is very clear as to who is entitled to homestead tax credits, and by asserting that you were living in New Hampshire while taking those tax breaks, you very clearly were in violation of the law.
“While this scandal will undoubtedly be extremely concerning to Granite State voters,” Buckley wrote, “most worrying are your failures to accept responsibility, your repeated attempts to deflect blame, and your refusal to pay the nearly $9,000 you owe to the taxpayers of Maryland.”
Goodwin called Buckley’s letter “just further evidence that this is a nothing more than a political hit job on Walt.”