LePage officials admit errors in tax exemptions

Posted Sept. 10, 2010, at 3:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage’s family finances are coming under scrutiny after campaign officials acknowledged that his wife wrongly received tax exemptions on homes in both Maine and Florida last year.

Ann LePage is listed as the sole owner of the home in Waterville where the couple lives as well as one in Ormond Beach, Fla.

Maine and Florida each offer a type of property tax relief — known as the “homestead exemption” — to homeowners who list the state as their primary residence. But in 2009, Ann LePage reportedly received exemptions in both Maine and Florida — an apparent violation of both states’ rules for qualifying for the tax program. To qualify, the applicant has to provide documentation that their home in that state is their primary residence.

The LePage campaign has acknowledged the issue, which was first reported Friday in the Maine Today Media newspapers. But they describe the duplicative exemptions as an inadvertent error that will soon be corrected.

Brent Littlefield, a spokesman for the LePage campaign, said Ann LePage first applied for and received the exemption on the Waterville home in 1998. It did not occur to her that she had signed that document when she applied for the same exemption in Florida 11 years later, Littlefield said.

“It’s a nonissue. It’s a paperwork error,” he said.

Democratic leaders strongly disagree, pointing out that LePage has made fiscal management and personal responsibility key themes of his campaign.

“I think people need to hear from Paul LePage about this,” said Arden Manning, manager of the Maine Democratic Party’s 2010 campaign. “This is a Class E crime. This is a very serious violation.”

Paul LePage could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

The homestead exemption deducted about $200 from Ann LePage’s property tax bill in 2009 in Maine; in Florida, the exemption deducted about $1,500 for that year. Under Florida law, Ann LePage could be fined and levied back property taxes.

LePage told Maine Today Media that his wife bought the house in Florida so she could help care for her ailing mother. Littlefield declined to go into further details or address why Ann LePage is listed as the sole owner of both homes.

“I’m not going to have a discussion about Paul LePage’s finances or his wife’s finances or his wife’s ailing mother,” he said.

The LePages’ daughter, Lauren, is also a student at Florida State University, which is part of Florida’s public college system.

LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell are considered the front runners in a five-person race for the governor’s mansion, with the most recent polls putting LePage up 14 percentage points on Mitchell.

In light of the recent polls, Littlefield said Democrats are desperate, and accused the Mitchell campaign of digging up dirt on LePage to avoid discussing the issues.

“They cannot defend her decades-long record of high taxes and misplaced priorities in Augusta,” he said.

Littlefield said staffers or researchers from the Mitchell campaign or the Democratic Party have been all over the state “pulling records on Paul LePage” in an attempt to find dirt.

Asked if he had evidence that the Democrats were behind the recent story, Littlefield said he didn’t. But he added: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist because it follows a consistent pattern … of attack, attack and attack because she cannot defend her record.”

Spokesmen for both the Mitchell campaign and the Maine Democratic Party responded in kind.

“I’m not going to respond to the LePage campaign’s conspiracy theories,” said David Loughran, spokesman for the Mitchell campaign. “Instead of addressing his tax violations, he is making unfounded accusations. … I think this is LePage’s effort to distract from his property tax record.”

Manning said the Maine Democratic Party “did not have anything to do with this.” But Manning also accused LePage of attempting to dodge the issue.

“It’s a pattern, LePage makes a mistake and then he blames others,” said Manning.

This isn’t the first time LePage has accused his gubernatorial opponents of trying to find political dirt on him.

Earlier this summer, LePage insinuated in a posting on Facebook that someone had stolen his trash. The posting then picked up steam among blogs along with suggestions that the campaign of independent candidate Eliot Cutler may have been involved.

Cutler’s campaign responded by accusing the LePage’s people of starting the rumor as a calculated smear campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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