ATLANTA - Nearly 60 candidates for Georgia's General Assembly have failed to pay their taxes on time, leading to more than $1 million in tax liens filed against them, according to an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The newspaper (http://bit.ly/PzHYMV ) found that 56 candidates owed tax money ranging from relatively small sums for unpaid sewer or garbage fees to five- and six-figure balances spanning multiple years. Many of those bills have been paid, while other candidates still owe money.
If elected to office, the legislative candidates will have the power to set tax policy and decide how Georgia spends billions of dollars in state money. The candidates offered a variety of reasons for not paying their tax bills, including personal tragedy, business deals gone bad or even simple oversight.
"I was downsized in 2005," said Doreen Carter, a Democrat from Lithonia who is running for a House seat.
Carter said she got behind her bills after getting laid off from her church job. DeKalb County filed almost $6,000 in liens against her property from 2006 to 2008. Those liens have been paid off, but Carter filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
"It was a matter of finding a job, taking care of a family," she said. "Being downsized in a recession was difficult, doing everything you can to pay your bills."
Candidates who owe tax money can legally seek office so long as they have made payment arrangements for the back taxes. A number of candidates this year have had their place on the ballot challenged because of tax debts, said Jared Thomas, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp is reviewing the rulings of administrative law judges on several cases.
"It's probably just a reflection of the poor economy," Thomas said. "A lot of people have found themselves in financial trouble and taxes are a part of that."
Chris Ne-Smith, a candidate for a Superior Court judgeship, quit the race Monday after an administrative law judge decided he was ineligible for the ballot because of unpaid taxes. Only one state legislative candidate has been legally challenged for tax debts, incumbent Rep. Paulette Rakestraw Braddock, a Republican from Powder Springs. Braddock owes more than $36,000 in federal taxes over a failed business. A judge who heard that case did not bar Braddock from the ballot.
Some candidates who have owed money say their tax trouble makes them like the people they seek to represent.
Bikram Mohanty, a Valdosta Democrat who is running for Senate, paid his 2008 Georgia income taxes late. He previously faced a nearly $5,000 lien from the state. Mohanty, who owns an occupational therapy firm, said he experienced problems when he delayed his personal income during the recession. He said it allowed him to keep his entire workforce.
"Because of my life experiences, I have a unique perspective that will allow me to both nurture the American dream and be a responsible steward with the people of Georgia's money," Mohanty said.
Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com