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Mar242014

NHDP - Nashua Telegraph: Havenstein Claimed Principal Residence in MD to Get Tax Breaks, Eligibility to Run for Gov. in Doubt

Key Points:

"Walter Havenstein said he saved $5,354 from 2008-11 by getting a homestead exemption from local property taxes in Bethesda, Md. He also paid a lower state property transfer tax while buying the property in that state.

"To get both, Havenstein had to acknowledge that his $1 million condominium was his 'principal residence' where he was living at least seven months of the year.

"The New Hampshire Constitution requires candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, state senate and the Executive Council to reside in the state seven years before the election."
...
"To obtain the homestead property tax exemption, Havenstein had to sign a form declaring the condo was his 'principal residence.'

"According to Maryland law, the principal residence is defined as the location 'designated by the owner for the legal purposes of voting, obtaining a driver’s license and filing income tax returns.'"

 

Nashua Telegraph: Domicile question clouds candidacy

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
Sunday, March 23, 2014

A potential Republican candidate for governor who claimed Maryland residency to obtain two tax credits said that didn’t change his New Hampshire domicile, nor did it jeopardize a future candidacy.

Walter Havenstein said he saved $5,354 from 2008-11 by getting a homestead exemption from local property taxes in Bethesda, Md. He also paid a lower state property transfer tax while buying the property in that state.

To get both, Havenstein had to acknowledge that his $1 million condominium was his “principal residence” where he was living at least seven months of the year.

The New Hampshire Constitution requires candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, state senate and the Executive Council to reside in the state seven years before the election.

Havenstein said he never relinquished New Hampshire as his domicile and noted that during those years when he spent his workweeks in Maryland, he regularly voted in state primary and general elections.

“At no time did I intend or in fact give up my domicile here in New Hampshire,” Havenstein said.

“I think my eligibility is based on my domicile here, and it’s clear for the last 14 years it has been unbroken.”

Voting officials in Bethesda confirmed Havenstein was not a registered voter in that city from 2007-14.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner said domicile, and not residence, is the key indicator of whether a person is eligible to be a candidate.

“You can have three or four residences, but you can only have one domicile for voting purposes,” Gardner said.

“In order to be domiciled, you have to be a resident here, but not the other way around. There are additional requirements in state law to be a resident that you don’t have to meet to be domiciled here for voting purposes.”

According to voting records in his hometown of Alton, Havenstein was registered to vote all seven years from 2007 to the present.

He took part in elections as a voter in Alton for the primary and general elections in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

Havenstein didn’t vote in local elections in 2009 and 2011.

Gardner said he couldn’t make a judgment on whether Havenstein has retained his domicile for the entire period.

“I’ve made this mistake before over the years,” said Gardner, who has been the state’s top election official since 1976. “I give an opinion based on what information is out there in the public domain, only to find out later during the hearing process that other facts come to light that change the picture.”

Gardner did say that if Havenstein had voted in Maryland, it would be more difficult for him to make an argument.

That’s because the Legislature changed state election law in 2001 to declare that the act of voting in a state creates a presumption that it was his or her domicile at the time.

The late state Rep. Richard Kennedy, R-Contoocook, pursued this law, Gardner said, after the Ballot Law Commission ruled in 1999 that state Senate Democratic candidate Len Foy, of Hudson, was eligible.

Foy was permitted to be on the ballot despite the fact he had twice registered to vote in California during that seven-year intervening period.

The Ballot Law Commission has issue a variety of decisions about the eligibility of candidates.

In 1986, the BLC decided by a 2-1 margin to allow Republican Roger Easton, of Canaan, to be on the ballot even though he had voted in Maryland in 1980.

The commission decided Easton’s absence from the state in Maryland was “temporary in nature and his residency status was not lost.”

To obtain the homestead property tax exemption, Havenstein had to sign a form declaring the condo was his “principal residence.”

According to Maryland law, the principal residence is defined as the location “designated by the owner for the legal purposes of voting, obtaining a driver’s license and filing income tax returns.”

Havenstein said he didn’t recall signing that form, but produced a form he signed in 2007 upon buying the condo.

By claiming that home would be his principal residence, Havenstein didn’t have to pay property transfer tax on the first $50,000 of home value.

The form makes no reference to the residence as it relates to voting, motor vehicle or tax laws.

Havenstein said he purchased a car and had Maryland license plates on it, which he only used in that state.

“I had to register a car that I only used there, as I needed a way to get around,” Havenstein said. “I commuted home to Alton virtually every weekend. My wife stayed here the entire time.

“By and large, I just used that place as a place to sleep and while I was working. I fulfilled both the obligations to maintain my domicile here and comply with my tax responsibilities in the state of Maryland.”

Havenstein, a former CEO of BAE Systems, said he first rented a condo in Maryland for 18 months, but then decided to buy one once he was transferred there.

After leaving BAE in July 2009, Havenstein worked as CEO of Science Applications International Corp., which had corporate offices over the border in Virginia.

“I just decided to keep my place in Bethesda and commute over the border,” he said.

Havenstein retired from SAIC in 2012 and sold the condo.

Former Democratic Party Chairman Kathy Sullivan said in signing the property tax form, Havenstein acknowledged he spent most of those years living in Maryland and this could be a decisive issue.

“He signed something that indicates this is his principal residence,” Sullivan said. “That’s a real affirmative statement he has to make.

“It sounds like you would have to say then that was to be his domicile.”

Jamie Burnett, an adviser for Havenstein, said his actions in no way ever jeopardized his status as a candidate.

“It may be that because Maryland considered him a statutory resident, he was eligible for the homestead tax credit, but that does not change the fact that he was a resident, domiciled and voting in New Hampshire the entire time he commuted to work in Maryland,” Burnett said.

“It’s clear under New Hampshire law and prior Ballot Law Commission rulings, Walt is eligible to run for governor in 2014.”

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