State politics: Searching for the Inner Santorum: When Is His House Not a Home? | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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State politics: Searching for the Inner Santorum: When Is His House Not a Home?

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Usually when Republicans are accused of exploiting tax loopholes, the amounts are much larger. But a group of local activists are accusing U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of improperly obtaining a county tax exemption that reaps him $72 a year.

 

At a May 5 press conference, the group Democracy for Pittsburgh turned over some 750 signed petitions urging Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala to investigate whether Santorum broke any laws by claiming a homestead exemption. The exemption is intended for homeowners whose primary residence is in Allegheny County, and as City Paper reported late last year, Santorum receives the exemption for a modest three-bedroom home he owns in Penn Hills.

 

Critics contend that such a home could not house Santorum, his wife and their six children -- and that Santorum's real primary residence is more likely the $757,000 home he owns in suburban Virginia. Unless Santorum stacks his children "like cordwood in the hall," charged Democracy for Pittsburgh spokeswoman Joy Sabl, "[t]here's no way this [Penn Hills] house is likely to be the ... primary residence of a United States senator." Santorum, Sabl charged, is "putting himself above the law," taking the homestead exemption "to nickel-and-dime Allegheny County."

 

Zappala's office has pledged to look into the matter, though county staffers have been unable to find Santorum's application for the exemption. As the application form makes clear, filing false information is a third-degree misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $2,500.

 

County Councilor Ron Francis, a Republican from the west suburbs, appeared at the May 5 press conference to defend Santorum. Documents like Santorum's driver's license and automobile registration list the Penn Hills home as his address, Francis noted, and Santorum "pays thousands of dollars a year to Pennsylvania and local governments."

 

Francis charged Santorum's enemies were seeking to use the "machinery of government," for "a partisan political attack." Opponents were "turn[ing] the county government upside down," he said; "[t]housands of dollars have already been spent chasing down this exemption" in the fruitless search for Santorum's exemption.

 

Santorum has echoed these remarks, telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the conference was a "partisan political move" motivated by Democrats.

 

Sabl scoffed at the notion that her effort was Democrat-backed. "This petition circulated itself," Sabl said.

 

Indeed, if Sabl's conference was a Democratic ploy, the party is in real trouble: Throughout the press event, Sabl used a children's "Learning Journey" CD player and amplifier, complete with a multi-colored plastic microphone. And in December, county spokeswoman Ali Detar told City Paper that Santorum's paperwork had been requested not by activists, as Francis charged, but by that noted Democratic house organ, the Tribune-Review.

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