ATLANTA — Nearly 10 percent of Georgia state legislators are late filing or paying their state taxes, and state Sen. Robert Brown is apparently among them.
Brown, D-Macon, said Wednesday he’s not sure whether he actually owes the state or federal government any money because he hasn’t filed tax returns. He said he’s gotten extensions, but he declined to give more information or say for what years he received filing extensions.
He told Atlanta station WXIA-TV that he had not filed his income taxes at least in the past two years, according to a report on the station’s Web site. He volunteered the information while arguing against a change in Senate rules that would make it easier for the body to take action against, or even expel, members who don’t pay their taxes.
That effort came in response to the discovery late last week that 19 legislators had failed to pay income taxes, some for several years. Those legislators have not been identified, due to Georgia Department of Revenue and federal Internal Revenue Service privacy policies. But a list, without names, was prepared and given to the chairmen of the House and Senate ethics committees, at their request, Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham said.
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Graham said Wednesday that the list has grown to 22, with three of the legislators actually having liens levied against them or wages garnished so taxes could be collected. That would make their names public record, but Graham said Wednesday evening that he didn’t know them off the top of his head.
The department publishes a list of taxpayers with a lien or garnishment against them online, but it has to be searched by name. There are 236 elected members of the Georgia General Assembly, with 56 in the Senate and 180 in the House. Brown’s name doesn’t appear to be on the list.
Graham said the 22 legislators were, in most cases, “repeat offenders” who “without a doubt” are purposefully behind. There are Republicans and Democrats among the 22, and members of both the House and Senate, he said.
The Telegraph asked most Middle Georgia legislators Wednesday whether they are current on their state, federal and local taxes. Only Brown and State Rep. Willie Talton said no.
Talton, R-Warner Robins, said he’s current on federal and state income taxes but that he owes about $30,000 on last year’s property taxes in Houston and Peach counties. Talton owns rental properties and said he owes only on last year’s taxes.
“I’m in the process of making arrangements,” he said.
Senators Cecil Staton, R-Macon, Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, Seth Harp, R-Midland, and Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, all told The Telegraph they were current on state, federal and local taxes.
So did state Reps. Allen Peake, R-Macon, Nikki Randall, D-Macon, David Lucas, D-Macon, Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch, Tony Sellier, R-Fort Valley, Larry O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, Jim Cole, R-Forsyth, Jimmy Pruett, R-Eastman, DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, Bobby Parham, D-Milledgeville, Buddy Harden, R-Cordele, and Lynmore James, D-Montezuma.
Brown said he needs to pay his taxes and that he’s simply “exercising the same rules” anyone can by filing for extensions. It’s not clear whether that’s actually the case, though. Graham said state law requires people to pay their estimated taxes even if they file for an extension.
And extensions merely allow you to file a tax return in October, instead of April.
Brown said he is “bearing the same (tax) burden” as any Georgia taxpayer and that he will answer to the voters next year, when he’s up for re-election.
“In 2010 I will stand to be judged,” he said.
His colleagues may judge him sooner than that. A new rule has been proposed that would give other senators more power to take action against senators who don’t pay their taxes. Similar discussions are taking place in the House, though a rule change may not be required there.
Brown said revenue officials are charged with making sure legislators pay their taxes, just like any Georgian. He said he would fight any effort to give the Senate more access to legislators’ tax records.
“It is not a group of political hacks over at the Senate who should have that authority,” he said.
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.