D.C. Takes the Blame, but Members Get the Bill

Posted March 30, 2009 at 6:30pm

The District of Columbia issued new tax bills totaling a combined $94,400 this week to four House Members, after city officials acknowledged they had inadvertently given the Members property tax breaks intended for city residents.

According to public documents available from the District’s Office of Tax and Revenue, each lawmaker was issued a new tax bill as of Sunday, including back taxes and interest, and in two cases, penalties.

A Roll Call review of D.C. property tax records in late March discovered a handful of House Members were improperly enrolled in the D.C. homestead program, which can shave hundreds of dollars a year off tax bills and limits annual tax increases.

District officials blamed themselves for the Members improperly receiving the tax break, citing clerical errors that allowed the lawmakers to receive discounted property taxes for several years.

Nonetheless, city officials said the Members will be required to pay the additional taxes, which will now be taxed on the full assessed value of their D.C. homes, rather than the discounted amount that each had received.

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), who owns a four-bedroom Georgetown home with his wife, Anne Neal, received the most considerable tax bill, totaling $79,110. That figure includes the first of two 2009 tax bills for $12,420.

Although Petri’s home, purchased in 1986, initially qualified for the homestead benefit via Neal, who works and files income taxes in the District, changes to the tax program in 2002 eliminated the home from consideration. Under the more stringent 2002 amendments, a resident must vote in the District to receive the tax break.

The Wisconsin lawmaker’s home will now be taxed at its full value of $2.9 million. District assessors had expected to tax the property at $1.4 million in 2009 before reviewing the home’s status.

Under the District’s homestead program, a taxpayer who owns a home in the city and uses it as the principal residence receives a reduction of $67,500 on its assessed value, or a savings of $573.75 off the 2009 tax bill.

In addition, properties that qualify for the homestead deduction are also protected from considerable jumps in assessed value. The District caps those increases at 10 percent above the previous year’s tax assessment.

GOP Reps. Mike Rogers (Ala.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.) and Steve King (Iowa) were also issued new tax bills this week.

In similar letters issued to each of those Members, the District’s tax office acknowledged the lawmakers had received the tax benefit despite not having applied for it. District officials said the benefit was likely the result of a now-defunct policy of automatically applying the tax benefit to new homeowners based on the tax status of the previous owner.

According to public records, Rogers will receive a tax bill of $6,377, including the $3,177 bill that covers the first six months of 2009, as well as back taxes and interest.

Rogers’ three-bedroom Capitol Hill home had initially been valued at $679,920 for tax purposes in 2009 but is now assessed at its full value, $747,420.

Similarly, Gingrey’s three-bedroom Capitol Hill home will now be taxed at its full $705,000 value, instead of the discounted $637,000 value initially set for 2009.

The Georgia lawmaker will receive a tax bill for $4,613, including the increase to his bill for the first half of 2009, as well as back taxes and interest. Gingrey’s new biannual tax amounts to $2,996, of which he had already paid $1,266.

King will receive a $4,313 tax bill, including his new biannual property tax of $1,554, as well as back taxes, penalties and interest.

King’s one-bedroom condominium had been taxed at $308,000 in its original 2009 tax bill but will now be assessed at its full $388,000 value.