WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican who represents the Southern Tier and serves on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, was late paying his property taxes 38 times between 2005 and this year – including at least 18 times since he joined Congress in late 2010.
Tax records from Steuben and Chemung counties, where Reed owns or has owned several properties in addition to his family home, show that Reed has paid $3,486.51 in interest and penalties because he has repeatedly been late on his property taxes by a month or two.
Told about the late payments, Reed said he was unaware of the scope of them. Noting that he has been involved in many investment properties, sometimes on his own and sometimes with partners, he said he has probably made at least 500 property tax payments since 2005.
That being the case, Reed downplayed the importance of the 38 late payments.
“Obviously we are meeting our obligations,” Reed said. “All the taxes have been paid in full, and we’ll continue to make good on all our obligations. Since there’s so many different entities here, we obviously try to work hard to do it on time, but we can’t guarantee that just like with everything else, something may not happen in the future.”
Eight of the late tax payments came on Reed’s family home in Corning. Reed was a month or two late in paying his county taxes on his home every year between 2005 and 2012, except for 2009. And he was late in paying school taxes on the home in 2008 and 2010.
“Obviously, that’s all part of our personal bills, and my wife and I attend to that,” Reed acknowledged.
Similarly, Reed was late paying town and county taxes six times on a lakeside home his family owns in Pulteney, on Keuka Lake.
In addition, taxes were paid late on three other properties that were owned by partnerships in which Reed is no longer involved. Reed’s law firm was listed as the owner of three more properties where the taxes were paid late, and he was listed as the sole owner of one other such property.
Reed has not played an active role in his law firm or other business interests since joining Congress in November 2010.
“Obviously, since I am in Congress I do not have the ability to have any day-to-day control over any of my business activities,” Reed said. “That’s something that I think obviously may have contributed to this.”
Now that he knows about the late payments, Reed said he would stress the importance of paying taxes on time to the people responsible for paying them.
A source who asked not to be identified reported Reed’s tax troubles to The Buffalo News, which then verified the tax records and shared with Reed a spreadsheet detailing the late payments.
Reed angrily lashed out at the disclosure of his tax records, alleging that Democrats taking aim at him in his 2014 re-election campaign were responsible for finding and publicizing the late payments.
“To me this is nothing but character assassination by D.C. politicians and/or my opponent in the race,” Reed said. “This is going to be a long campaign and I hate to see petty politics brought up. We don’t engage in it.”
Nevertheless, the campaign of his likely Democratic opponent, Tompkins County Legislature Chairwoman Martha Robertson of Dryden, said it was unaware of Reed’s late tax payments.
“This is the first we’ve heard about it,” said George Koutsos, a spokesman for Robertson. “And if these facts are true, and Tom Reed considers them negative, whose fault is that? He should pay his taxes like everybody else.”
Reed’s late tax payments could become an issue in what’s expected to be a contentious campaign in the 23rd Congressional District, which sprawls just north of the Pennsylvania border all the way from Chautauqua County in the west to Ithaca in the east.
In part, that’s because there’s a difficult irony to the fact that Reed has been late so often on his taxes: His law firm specializes in debt collection.
That business has been an issue in all of his congressional campaigns, and it’s already resurfacing for 2014. Just last week, Democrats protested over the issue at his Corning congressional office.
“As the owner of a law firm that specializes in collecting medical debt, Reed has gone after thousands of his neighbors and constituents in court,” the State Democratic Party said in a news release before the protest.
Asked how important an issue the tax matter could be for Reed, two widely respected political scientists offered widely divergent views.
James E. Campbell, a professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, dismissed Reed’s late tax payments as a sign of “sloppiness” and nothing more.
“If it’s just that he’s late by one or two months, I don’t think that much of it,” said Campbell. “It’s not like he was a slumlord or anything. He was just a little late paying the bill.”
But Larry Sabato, the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Virginia, termed Reed’s tendency to pay his taxes late “foolish” and “not acceptable,” and said it would certainly be a major issue in his re-election campaign.
“If you’re a public official, you’re going to be held accountable,” Sabato said. “Both parties have actively got opposition researchers looking into disclosing all of your flaws. Why in God’s name would you let yourself be in this position?”
Sabato said Reed’s tax troubles would be particularly damaging because he serves on the congressional committee that writes the nation’s tax laws.
“It’s do as I say, not do as I do,” said Sabato, who noted that most voters pay their taxes on time. “This is the sort of thing that really bothers voters. They really believe Congress lives by one set of rules and sets another set of rules for everybody else.”
Then again, Sabato – who was highly amused to hear that a member of Congress would be late on his taxes 38 times – cheekily gave Reed some credit for his repeated tardiness.
“I want to salute his consistency,” Sabato said. “So many members of Congress are so all over the place. They’re not dependable.”