David Stokes
The above song title (switching out "Springfield" and "D.C. Property Tax" for "Mobile" and "Memphis," of course) was the answer to one of the trivia questions Saturday night, when we won the annual Soulard Restoration Group trivia night for the fifth time in the five-year history of the event. This is close to our record of winning the Boys Hope Girls Hope trivia night eight times in nine years (we sat out the only year we didn't win). So far, we are four for four in 2009 trivia nights, with the season coming to a close. What does all this have to do with the review of Rep. Roy Blunt's property tax records, as reported in the Kansas City Star this morning? Nothing! I just wanted to brag. ... 

Which gets us into the debate over whether it is a big deal that Rep. Blunt and his wife may have received an undeserved property tax break for the past few years. Not surprisingly, some people think this is a very big deal. I tend to disagree, while also certainly feeling that if any back taxes are due — and it seems likely there will be some — that all those back taxes, including penalties and interest, must be paid as soon as possible (I hate stating the obvious, but sometimes you have to).

The almost-certain reason for the confusion is that Ms. Blunt used to live at the D.C. home as her primary residence, so she rightfully claimed the credit. At some point after her marriage, though, she started claiming Missouri as her primary residence, so she should have lost the credit. The Blunts asked a D.C. official to see that the credit was discontinued, but it wasn't (emphasis added):
“The Blunts asked my office to see that the exemption … was removed,” wrote Councilman Jack Evans. “Both the Blunts and I were assured this has been done. I deeply regret that the assurances to the Blunts were not followed up on correctly.”

If the Missouri Highway Patrol can mistakenly forget to file charges against a potential DWI offender until after the statute of limitations runs, then I have no problem believing that some civil servant in D.C.'s city hall (or would that be "district hall"?) might tell someone the credit had been changed when it had not been, and then completely forgotten about it.

This is all about a very small amount of money, no more than $3,000 over five years. I find it impossible to believe that the congressman would have risked a scandal over five hundred bucks a year. I put this squarely in the same box as the back taxes due by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. It is a small amount of money. Somebody made an honest mistake (in the Blunts' case, the error was in failing to confirm the credit had been discontinued). Fix the mistake, pay the back taxes, and move on. No big deal. (I don't necessarily feel this way about all the back-tax issues in the Obama administration confirmation process, however. Knowing that you have to pay both sides of SS and Medicare, a situation I have experienced, is neither hard nor complicated.)

My wife and I always do our own taxes, which get somewhat complicated, because she is a partner in her law firm and has income from multiple states, so we owe returns for more than just Missouri. We work our tails off each year trying to get it exactly right, and believe that we succeed. We have probably spent 20 hours in the past week working on them. Part of me hates it, but a bigger part of me likes doing it so we get a clear sense of how much we pay to the government every year. The bottom line is that many people make small mistakes when the tax system gets complicated, and maintaining multiple homes — as just about everyone in Congress does — can be confusing. So, while the Star story is interesting and certainly a legitimate story, I don't think it is that big a deal.

About the Author

David Stokes
David Stokes was a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute from 2007 to 2014 and was director of development from 2014 to 2016.