Declaring she found the problem and took responsibility for not paying personal property taxes on her airplane, Sen. Claire McCaskill said it will be up to the voters in Missouri to decide whether to hire her again in 2012.
“I hope the way I have handled this is consistent with my image,” said McCaskill during a radio conference call held on Wednesday. “I found the problem. I owned it. And I made sure it got fixed quickly.”
McCaskill revealed last week that she failed to pay $287,283 in personal property taxes on her plane.
“The voters will have to decide whether this big, serious, sloppy mistake is enough for them not to decide to hire me again,” she said. “In the meantime, I’m going to try not to become distracted in what is going to become a circus like atmosphere.”
After interest, penalties and fees were added on for failing to pay for four years, the bill totaled $319.541.
Transparency and public inspection
“This problem came to light because of the kind of transparency that I have worked for for 30 years in government,” McCaskill said, referring to her previous elected positions as state auditor from 1999 to 2007, county prosecutor from 1993 to 1999, and state representative from 1983 to 1988. “I think I will keep doing my job and working very hard as I have always done on holding government open to the sunlight of public inspection.”
McCaskill did not, however, mention anything about releasing her tax returns during the conference call.
The Missouri Republican Party called on the Democrat to release her tax records last week and filed a supplemental ethics complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee. Afterwards, a spokesperson for McCaskill told Missouri Watchdog the senator’s personal financial disclosure statements have far more detailed information.
McCaskill’s financial statements list Sunset Cove, the limited liability company that St. Louis County has down as paying the back taxes, as worth less than $1,001. How does a taxpayer owe nearly $320,000 worth of back taxes and penalties on an asset listed as worth less than $1,001? Plus, how much in taxes did McCaskill owe on the other companies listed on her financial documents as worth less than $1,000, totaling more than 150?
Complicated taxing scheme
Soon after the conference call, which mostly covered other political issues in Washington D.C., the Missouri GOP sent out a statement accusing McCaskill of blaming Missouri tax laws for not paying her personal property taxes.
“Claire McCaskill failed to pay more than $319,000 in property taxes on her private plane, and now she is blaming a ‘complicated taxing scheme’ for her mistake,” said Lloyd Smith, executive director of the state party.
“Hundreds of law-abiding Missourians have figured out how to pay personal property taxes on their planes.”
McCaskill was responding to a question on the conference call from a reporter about whether it is a comfort to her that others who own airplanes might be facing similar tax problems. The reporter noted there are around a dozen privately owned hangers scattered around St. Louis County and maybe around a thousand airplanes.
“Frankly, there is not much to me that is a comfort about this. I made assumptions that things were being handled appropriately and I should have known better than make that assumption and there are people I could blame… But I know better than that too. I think I should take ownership of this problem,” McCaskill responded.
“It is, I have learned over the last few weeks, a complicated taxing scheme, as it relates to airplanes,” McCaskill continued, referencing the state’s personal property taxes on planes, which does not exist across the Mississippi River in Illinois, where others from St. Louis park their planes. “But if someone can afford an airplane, they ought to be able to afford the kind of assistance to make sure they understand that.”
McCaskill hit political turbulence earlier this month when the online news site Politico first reported a story about McCaskill flying on her airplane and billing taxpayers. McCaskill then acknowledged one flight was for “purely political travel” and refunded all of the taxpayer money she received from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The Missouri GOP followed by filing its original ethics complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee, accusing the senator of “drawing personal profits” from a company owned by her and her husband for plane rentals.