PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Florida county has closed its investigation into a tax exemption claimed by the family of Maine Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage on a Florida home, concluding that the $1,400 tax break was allowed under state law, a tax official ruled Monday.
In a letter to LePage's lawyer, the property appraiser in Volusia County, Fla., said the homestead exemption in 2008 and 2009 was OK because of an exception allowing the tax break on a Florida home maintained for a dependent. LePage contends the home was bought to help his wife care for her ailing mother.
LePage had said there was a paperwork mistake in which his wife claimed homes in Maine and Florida as primary residences. But his attorney pointed out the exception under Florida law.
His wife Ann is now a Maine resident again. After LePage's June victory in the GOP primary, she transferred her residency back to Maine, a LePage spokesman said.
In a statement Monday, LePage said opponents turned a family matter — sorting out the best way to care for his elderly mother-in-law — into a "vicious smear campaign."
"My opponents have tried to distract the people of Maine from the issues of this campaign. They would rather twist the truth than talk about Maine being the toughest place in the country to grow a business and the 50,000 unemployed Mainers," LePage said. "My campaign is focused on putting people before politics and that will be my message over the final week of this election."
According to the LePages' attorney, Ann LePage went to Florida after her father died in the fall of 2007 to care for her mother, who suffers from scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder, as well as pulmonary hypertension. Ann LePage rented a home before buying a home in December 2008.
After the purchase, Ann LePage listed the home as her primary residence, but she failed to change the status of the home in Waterville that she'd previously claimed as primary residence. In September, the LePages corrected the Waterville and paid the $227.93 in taxes owed, the LePage campaign said.
Morgan Gilreath Jr., property appraiser in Volusia County, noted that the Florida situation was unusual — so unusual that there's no place on the homestead exemption form or statement of gross income to make note of the exception to Florida's law. There's also no notation on the county website, he said.
Because of the exception, Ann LePage can list Maine as her primary residence while continuing to claim the homestead exemption in Florida as long her mother lives in the home and the LePages maintain it and provide for her, making her "naturally dependent," said her attorney, William A. Lee III of Waterville, who is licensed in Maine and Florida.
But Democratic Party spokesman Arden Manning wasn't letting LePage off the hook. He said the LePages were using a new rationale. "It seems like Paul LePage's story is changing yet again," he said.
The brouhaha over the LePage family's taxes escalated when LePage blew up in September when asked about the tax issue at news conferences in Portland and Augusta. He later apologized, saying he was protective of his family and felt his wife was being attacked.