Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mitt Romney contradicted his previous public statements yesterday, and said for the first time that he did not file Massachusetts income tax returns for 1999 and 2000 as a resident of this state.
At a news conference, Romney said that he filed as a part-year resident for 1999 and a nonresident for 2000. He amended those returns, claiming Massachusetts resident status, on April 2, a week after he announced he was running for governor of Massachusetts and four days before the state Republican convention that endorsed his candidacy.
The Massachusetts Constitution requires a governor to be a resident for each of the seven years prior to the election. Romney has been embroiled in a controversy over his residency since Wednesday, when the Globe reported his home in Park City, Utah, was classified as his “primary residence” for 1999 through 2001, giving him a $54,000 break on his property taxes.
His filing of Massachusetts tax returns as a nonresident and a part-year resident may weaken his argument that he has long considered this state his primary home. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue considers an individual a part-year resident if he leaves the state during the year, and has “terminated your residency in Massachusetts to establish a residence outside the state” but still has a source of income here. In 2000, he filed as a nonresident, defined as someone who is not a resident, but again has a source of income in the state. He received an extension for his 2001 return.
Romney’s revelations about his amended returns came one day after he told reporters he had “filed both as a resident of Utah and a resident of Massachusetts” when asked whether he filed taxes as a resident of Massachusetts from 1999 to 2001.
Earlier in the week, he rejected a request by the Globe for copies of his returns with financial information redacted, but his residential status visible. A Romney spokesman insisted at that time the GOP candidate had filed his returns as a Massachusetts resident, but told the Globe reporter, “You’re going to have to take my word for it.”
The chief counsel for the state Democratic party says the chances are “better-than-50-50” that the party will file a challenge to Romney’s residency today. The threats of a challenge brought scorn from Romney.
“Go ahead and make my day,” he said at the press conference. “It’s a high-stakes game for someone to challenge me on the basis of residency.”
Successfully challenging a candidate’s residency is difficult in this state, where the state ballot law commission has taken a broad view of the question of where a candidate lives.
But the issue could be politically damaging. Romney’s candidacy rides heavily on his public image as a clean-cut, honest businessman who brought integrity to the scandal-tarred Winter Olympics, and would do the same for Beacon Hill. However, his handling of the residency questions has been marked by shifting stories and incomplete answers that concealed key facts.
In addition to the revision of his statement on his Massachusetts tax status, Romney originally said he had not seen the property tax bills from Summit County, Utah, that showed he was receiving a deep discount because his primary residence was in Utah. He said the bills were addressed to his wife, Ann, and that she dealt with them. However, records show the bills were sent to him and that he paid the taxes in 1999 and 2000, while his wife paid the 2001 real estate tax.
Romney also said he did not learn he received the tax break given to those with primary residences in Utah until he read about it in the Globe on Wednesday. However, Summit County, Utah, tax assessors sent Romney a “notice of property valuation and tax changes” for each of the three years, spelling out that he was getting a primary resident tax cut on his $3.8 million home. The issue is a hotly debated one in the exclusive resort area, where wealthy Americans have second and third homes.
His status was also reported in an article in the the Utah newspaper The Deseret News, in which he said he had established his Park City home as his “primary residence for tax purposes.” The article pointed out that he would not rule out a run for office in Utah, where the residency requirement for governor is five years before the election. Having a permanent residence in Deer Valley beginning in 1999 could qualify Romney for the 2004 gubernatorial election in Utah.
He faced attacks from his political opponents over his credibility yesterday.
“He lied yesterday and he has different story today,” said James Roosevelt, the Democratic Party’s general counsel. “He signed the returns under pains and penalties of perjury. I think he made his intentions quite clear at the time he signed those returns.”
Romney said he had decided to file the amendments to his returns when he returned to Massachusetts in late March and talked to his campaign lawyers about his qualifications for running for governor, including whether he met the residency requirement. He said when the issue of his tax returns was discussed, he realized he should have filed as a resident because his intent while he was in Utah was to return to Massachusetts, which he considers his permanent home.
“I am amending them because it is the right thing to do,” Romney said.
The candidate said he was eligible to receive almost $10,000 back through refunds for the two years, by changing his status to resident filer, and said he directed that the money be donated to the state’s Endangered Wildlife Fund by checking off a box on his form. It’s not clear precisely what tax advantage he gained by claiming resident status in his amended return because he would not reveal its contents. And, according to DOR spokesman Tim Connolly, a taxpayer who files as a nonresident in Massachusetts only pays on income derived from sources in this state, while a resident pays taxes on income, no matter the source.
Romney said he had not given much thought to which residential status that his tax accountants at PriceWaterhouseCoopers checked off on his returns filed in Massachusetts. He said Utah law required him to file his return as a resident.
“I was not thinking of running for office,” Romney said. “I was trying to fill our my tax forms as accurately as possible.”
He said he was not aware of the seven-year residency rule to qualify as a candidate for governor until he returned in late March.
Romney’s campaign and the Summit County assessor’s office have blamed the classification of his home as a primary residence on a clerical error. Supervising appraiser Steve Martin said he assessed Romney’s home in April 1999, and suspects he mistakenly typed in a code that designated the land Romney’s home was built on as “primary,” while correctly coding the home as non-priamry residence.
County Assessor Barbara Kresser said that her office was rushing to complete its valuation in May of that year, and that someone on her staff - she does not know who and said it could have been her - reconciled the inconsistency by assuming, since Romney was such a prominent figure as CEO of the Olympics, that he was a primary resident.
That assumption circumvented the normal procedure for granting of the 45 percent tax break to primary residents. That procedure calls for homeowners to submit proof of primary residency, such as driver’s license or voting records, and to file a document requesting the designation.