D.A.’s office to probe Santorum tax break — and you made it happen

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Pittsburgh for Democracy member, Joy Sabl, discusses Santorum Homestead
Tax Exemption issue with District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr. – Photo by Maria Lupinacci

According to today’s Tribune-Review:

Allegheny County prosecutors don’t know if U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum violated any laws by getting a $70 annual tax break on his Penn Hills house.

But District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.’s office announced Thursday it will investigate.

Democracy for Pittsburgh, a group of Democratic Party activists, petitioned Zappala for the inquiry. Democrats have targeted the Republican in next year’s election.

“This is obviously a partisan political move on the part of these people, motivated either by the Democratic (National) Committee or the campaign of my opponent,” said Santorum, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican. “I’d hope the district attorney would not waste taxpayers’ resources on playing political games.”

During an interview on KQV Radio yesterday, Santorum further claimed that Democracy for Pittsburgh were “rabid Democrat activists” working at “the behest of Casey and others” and went on to talk about how it was all a political move by “Howard Dean and his ilk.”

“Rabid?” “At the behest of Casey?” The simple truth is that a couple of members of Democracy for Pittsburgh came up with the idea to start a petition, questioning how Senator Santorum could take a tax exemption meant for people who live in Allegheny County — who have a PRIMARY residence here — when by all accounts, Santorum lives with his family in Virginia. As a prime goal of Democracy for Pittsburgh is to increase access of real people to the political process, we posted a copy of the petition on the Wiki for this website for people to download and print out and gather signatures. We also established a PO Box where people could mail the signed petitions.

The project more or less took care of itself. Over 750 signatures were gathered. When it became apparent that there was real grassroots interest in the petition, our group sent a copy of the petition to Sen. Santorum’s office; informed County Council about the project and alerted the media that we would hold a press conference (held yesterday)about the petition and then present the petition to Allegheny County District Attorney Zappala. Again, this was all in keeping with our directive to facilitate folks in getting involved with the democratic process — note that that is small ‘d’ democratic.

The accusation that we are are somehow a front for Bob Casey, Jr. (who wants to run for Santorum’s seat next year) is laughable. While there are those in the group who support Casey, others are strong supporters of Chuck Pennacchio and still others want to draft Barbara Hafer, and I’m certain others would prefer a Libertarian or Green candidate.

Suggestions have been made that we receive funds from the DNC, or Howard Dean or (and I assume this was said in jest) George Soros. For the record: no one is paying us to do anything. No one is funding us. We don’t even collect any dues from our members. We are as grassroots as it gets. For proof of that, let me note that the mic we used at the press conference was a children’s karaoke machine personally purchased by a group member. Hardly the type of equipment that you’d find being used by a group with “big time” financial backing.

You can read a full copy of the text of the press conference statement below the fold.

You can read some mentions of Democracy for Pittsburgh and the Santorum Homestead Tax Exemption issue here:

Pittsburgh City Paper, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santorum Residence”

Tribune-Review, “Group says Santorum gets improper tax break”

Penn Hills Progress, “Group targeting tax break plans event”

Tribune-Review, “Santorum exemption targeted by group”

Tribune-Review,  “D.A.’s office to probe Santorum tax break”

The story has also been covered on:

KQV Radio

PCNC TV’s “Honsberger Live” program

Fox 53 TV “NewsCentral at Ten”

UPDATE: We have heard that this issue was laso covered on WPXI TV, WTAE TV and DUQ Radio.


Text of Press Conference Statement:

I speak to you today as a representative of Democracy for Pittsburgh, and for approximately 750 county residents who are questioning Senator Santorum’s Homestead tax status [wave petitions].

For those who are keeping track, the Senator’s D.C. office received copies of this petition ten days ago. In the face of silence from Senator Santorum’s office, Democracy for Pittsburgh is about to bring a copy of this “homestead tax repayment” petition to District Attorney Zappala.

What’s the issue? The Senator does not live in his Penn Hills house. Two other adults do live in the house–they are there on a daily basis, and are registered to vote there. Senator Santorum nevertheless has quietly taken the homestead tax exclusion on the property, as if he really lived there. His staff’s response to requests that he fix the problem, is that it’s not a problem.

According to the Act 50 Application, it is a problem. If the Senator “knowingly” requested the homestead tax status, he owes the county taxes due, plus interest, plus a fine of up to $2,500.” It seems that Senator Santorum’s original application can’t be found in a reasonable search. Does this mean he doesn’t owe a thing? We doubt it. Senator Santorum continues to KNOWINGLY take the homestead tax exclusion. His tax bills tell him that he’s getting the exclusion. The press has pointed out that he doesn’t have a right to the exclusion. And now, his constituents [wave petitions again] are telling him that yes, they DO mind that he’s taking something from the county that he’s not entitled to. Senator, if you’re listening: “Maybe people get away with this sort of thing in Virginia, but you ought to remember that it doesn’t work like that here.”

What’s our group’s role in all this? Like Democracy for America, Democracy for Pittsburgh’s purpose is to increase access of real people to the political process. We are made up largely of core Democrats and disaffected Democrats [pause] plus some progressive Libertarians, independents, and Greens [pause] and plenty of old Heinz Republicans. [pause] We welcome the ideological diversity this brings to our group, and the way it lets us focus on effective, ethical government.

We’ve been accused of doing this as a partisan stunt. That’s not quite fair. For us, the issue today is not the DIRECTION of Senator Santorum’s political or moral compass. We’re worried about the WAY HE WALKS while following that compass.

Let’s accept that the Senator and his own party see him as an anti-waste, anti-corruption crusader. How do his personal actions bring this vision across?

Well [pregnant pause] the word in the Southwest of the state is that many wise-government advocates shared our outrage when we all found out that the Senator used funds from a hard-hit school district, where his children never lived, to pay for their internet-based schooling. Today, that sense of unity comes upon us again, and we find common cause with tax activists and “clean government” advocates from across the political spectrum in decrying how the senator continues to nickle-and-dime Allegheny County by claiming that a three-bedroom house is the “primary residence” of the devoted father of an eight person family…plus two additional relatives.

The Senator’s office points out that the other registered voters in the house may not legally count as “renters.” Maybe so, but that’s beside the point. Unless the Senator is planning to divorce his wife and disown his children, or stack his family like cordwood in the hall, there’s no way that this particular house is likely to be the “current or intended future primary residence” of a U.S. Senator. Even if he manages to tie the law in knots and come out on top, we all can see that he’s taking a little bit of money from his constituents’ pockets by continuing to live with this petty little lie.

We will be making this point to District Attorney Zappala, and provided copies of
the petitions to him. We hope Senator Santorum will realize that our county’s taxpayers want to see their elected officials play by the same rules as the rest of us. Like you, we will be waiting for a less-dismissive response from the Senator and his staff.

Thank you for your time, and I’d be glad to answer a few questions.

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One Response to “D.A.’s office to probe Santorum tax break — and you made it happen”

  1. corporatemedia Says:

    For the full story, from the beginning…

    SANTORUM CYBERGATE

    http://santorumcybergate.blogspot.com/

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