When newly elected U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster was sworn into office on Jan. 3, she had a net worth of at least $1.8 million - and an overdue property tax bill of $14,089. It turns out that her property tax bills on her primary residence and a rental property have been repeatedly late in the last few years. What does that say about Kuster? Not much, probably.
U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, ousted last fall by Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, had his own delinquent property tax and water service bills in Manchester a few years ago, as did several other city elected officials of both parties. Current Republican State Committee Chairman Jennifer Horn owes the IRS more than $90,000 in back taxes, for which the IRS has imposed liens on her property.
The typical partisan response to news like this is to call the delinquent payer a tax cheat or imply that he or she is selfishly trying to avoid his or her civic duty. That is how Democrats portrayed Guinta when news of his late tax bills broke. Republicans pretend to be outraged about Kuster, too, but the response was more measured, for good reason.
The state party officially called on Kuster not to resign, but to explain herself. Asserting that Kuster did not "pay her fair share," Republican spokesperson Meg Stone said, "When times are tough and our neighbors are struggling, people understand; but when your net worth is nearly $2 million and you have established a pattern of non-payment, your constituents deserve an answer."
The false outrage was leavened with a hint of understanding. How else could a party headed by someone who has IRS liens totaling $92,184 respond?
The typical public response is a bit different. It goes something like this: We have to pay our taxes on time, why don't they? Who do they think they are? Fair enough. From now on, party poo-bahs need to vet candidates on their tax bills to avoid those questions. Yet for now there are other questions. Why do so many people in politics in New Hampshire have trouble paying their taxes on time? Do they feel entitled? Are they disorganized? Is it the economy? Or are taxes so high and so complex that it is becoming hard to find candidates who have not had payment issues?