AUGUSTA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage abruptly ended a news conference at the State House on Monday after becoming agitated by questions regarding his wife’s residency and the ownership history of their house in Waterville.
LePage, who is leading the five-candidate field according to recent polling, said in response to a question that he does “not pay any” property taxes in Maine. The answer came during a heated exchange with reporters who were invited by LePage to a media tour to roll out his vision for improving the state’s business climate.
The Kennebec Journal reported Friday that LePage’s wife, Ann, simultaneously benefited from permanent-resident tax exemptions on homes in Maine and Florida last year, in violation of tax law in both states. According to property tax records in each state, the tax exemptions totaled about $1,700. The tax paid in Waterville was $3,460, and in Florida it was $2,113.
To receive the tax exemption in Maine or Florida – each of which calls it the homestead exemption – property owners must declare that state as their primary residence.
The LePage campaign admitted the discrepancy and described it as a paperwork error. Brent Littlefield, a campaign spokesman, said Ann LePage was working to correct the error, but wouldn’t specify how.
To get the homestead exemption in Florida, property owners must affirm that they are Florida residents, have a car registered in Florida and have a Florida driver’s license.
LePage, the mayor of Waterville, said last week that his wife at one time got a driver’s license from Florida. Maine records show she was reissued a Maine license in late July of this year.
During Monday’s news conference on his economic development plan, LePage was asked to clarify the residency status of his wife. He said he had already addressed the issue.
When reporters pressed for an answer, he began walking away from the microphones. “I am running for governor, not my wife. I want to talk about the $1 billion shortfalls we have,” he said as he was leaving.
Asked why he transferred the deed for his house at 438 Main St. in Waterville from both of their names to just her name, LePage said his name never appeared on the deed.
“I never had it on. Never had it on. Ever,” he said.
“That house was bought for my wife. That house in Florida, my mother-in-law bought, we helped her.”
According to Kennebec County property records, the names of LePage and his wife were on the deed issued Oct. 11, 1995, when they bought the house.
The property was transferred to just Ann LePage on Feb. 23, 1996, according to another record bearing Paul LePage’s signature.
Later Monday, LePage returned to Augusta to follow up with reporters. He said he had forgotten that his name was on the property deed at one time.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org