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LePage Dogged by Tax Questions as he Rolls Out Economic Plan
09/13/2010   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Monday was supposed to be the day that Republican gubernatorial nominee Paul LePage rolled out his economic plan for Maine, but the candidate continued to be dogged by questions about his real estate dealings in Maine and Florida that have resulted in allegations that his wife erroneously claimed homestead exemptions in both states. LePage angrily left a State House press conference today after admitting to reporters that he pays no property taxes in Maine.

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Only a few months ago, Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage told Maine reporters that they could ask him anything. "I've never shied away from the press, although the press is not always kind to me because I speak my mind," he said back then.

LePage said he believed in "transparency, accountability and, most of all, honesty" from elected officials. But during a Bangor news conference where he rolled out his economic plan, the candidate dismissed a question about his family's real estate dealings in Florida and Waterville after inviting questions from reporters. "That's been asked and answered, and let's move on," he said.

Later, at a State House briefing with reporters, LePage became testy when pressed about his family's real estate holdings and his wife's decision to become a resident of Florida. He angrily left the news conference after refusing to answer the questions.

A.J. Higgins: "Why would your wife need to establish residency in Florida?"

Paul LePage: "I will tell you this -- this is what I'm going to say, and I will not bring this up again: I am running for governor, not my wife. I want to talk about the billion dollar shortfall we have, and if you guys want to do the Enquirer, I'm not playing."

A.J. Higgins: "Why did you take you name off your real estate in Waterville?"

Paul LePage: "I never had it on, never had it on, ever."

But that's not what records at the Kennebec County registry of deeds show. And later in the day, a spokesman for the LePage campaign called MPBN to rescind LePage's statement and apologize.

Brent Littlefield also confirmed that, in fact, the candidate's name was on the Waterville deed at one time. But after leaving Augusta to go to his final news briefing in Portland, LePage used an expletive when the same issue resurfaced. "Ok, let's stop the bulls---, and let's answer the questions the way they should be answered," he said.

So what is this all about? According to a Maine Today Media report, Ann and Paul LePage purchased a home in Waterville in 1995. The following year, LePage took his name off the deed. The LePages received tax benefits under Maine's Homestead Exemption program, since that home was their primary residence.

In 2008, Ann LePage became a resident of Florida and obtained a Florida driver's license while her husband remained a Maine resident. She purchased a home in Ormond Beach, Fla. and then allegedly claimed homestead tax benefits in the two states by declaring both homes as her primary residence.

LePage originally said last week that his wife relocated to Florida to take care of her ailing mother. But that didn't explain why she became a resident of that state, obtained a Florida driver's license and filed for tax benefits under the Homestead Exemption Act.

LePage's spokesman now says Ann LePage became a Florida resident to send a message to her husband that she wanted to retire in Florida and also to take care of her ailing mother.

And the candidate is now acknowledging that two of his children did qualify for in-state tuition, at a considerable savings, at Florida State University. FSU has a number of resident tuition requirements -- including proof of receiving a Florida homestead exemption benefit.

LePage still stands by his assertion that an error was made when his wife applied for the Florida exemption. "In 2009, we did receive the homestead exemption. I have since called the City of Waterville, and we're in the process of contacting Florida and tell them to take us off homestead exemption permanently from the rest of her natural life, since she owns both homes."

Maine and Florida both include penalty provisions in their homestead exemption laws for those who intentionally violate the provisions of the program.




 

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