Begich pays back taxes on city car

Murkowski criticized after failing to answer survey from Politico

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ANCHORAGE - U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is one of seven senators who has paid back taxes after reporting mistakes to the IRS, according to a survey by political Web site and newspaper Politico.

Begich, a Democrat, told Politico that he and the IRS discovered mistakes covering a 30-year period, but otherwise, "nothing significant."

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the state's senior senator, did not answer questions posed by Politico to 99 sitting senators, drawing criticism from state Democratic leaders.

The survey comes after two appointments by President Barack Obama failed because of tax problems. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner faced criticism for not paying payroll taxes for his housekeeper.

Aides to both senators told the Anchorage Daily News that Begich and Murkowski were immersed in the stimulus package and could not speak to the survey.

Begich told Politico that he was issued a city vehicle when he served as Anchorage mayor, a routine perk for mayors nationwide.

"Then the IRS issued a new ruling that use of this car was taxable, so I paid the back taxes owed on the 'benefit' for the years I utilized the vehicle. I then got rid of the city vehicle and bought my own car to use for city business," Begich said in the survey.

It's unclear what new ruling Begich referred to.

IRS spokeswoman identified a proposed regulation issued last year. But that regulation covered a tax exemption for marked public safety vehicles, not vehicles driven by mayors or other politicians.

Begich's tax problem, Politico wrote, reprises problems others have already faced. Tom Daschle was forced to step down as Obama's selection for Health and Human Services secretary, having failed to pay income taxes due on a car and driver.

It's also unknown how much Begich paid in back taxes, if he paid a penalty, and how the mistake was discovered.

Murkowski was among 12 senators who chose to respond with generic statements on financial disclosure requirements.

And 41 senators did not respond at all to Politico's survey. Another two said they refused to answer.

Alaska Democratic leaders hammered Murkowski for not responding.

"Our leaders must be completely open and transparent about whether and how they have fulfilled their personal obligations as taxpayers," Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in a written statement. "This is especially important now because we need to rebuild trust in our financial institutions and in Congress. Sen. Murkowski's refusal to answer raises further questions."

By sending out a news release, the state party also drew attention to Begich's mistakes.

"We were just contrasting their responses," said spokeswoman Kay Brown. "He answered. She didn't."

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