Commentary: Everyone should pay taxes on time, including politicians

It's a well-established practice for newspapers to write about politicians who don't pay their taxes.

The most familiar local example was Columbia City Councilman E.W. Cromartie, who had a well-worn pattern: He wouldn't pay his taxes on time, sometimes writing a check just before his property was to be auctioned off by the county, this editorial board (and no small number of voters) would condemn his cavalier attitude toward his legal obligations and bemoan the fact that no one would run against him for re-election, and then things would die down until the cycle repeated.

The discussion of overdue taxes normally is confined to property taxes, because income tax records are private, and the IRS and state Revenue Department give people a lot longer to file and pay their taxes before they take public action to collect. So when Republican Sen. Greg Ryberg announced from the Senate floor in April that 12 House members had failed to file an income tax return at least once in the past decade, there wasn’t much anyone could do except agree that this was awful, because we had no way of knowing who the tax scofflaws were.

The only reason we learned that Rep. Nikki Haley may have been among them was that she voluntarily released copies of her income taxes, after GOP opponent Gresham Barrett and Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen released theirs. Those copies showed that if Mr. Ryberg's bill to crack down on tax dodgers had been in effect at the time, Ms. Haley would not have been allowed to run for re-election in 2006 or 2008, because at the time of the elections, she had not yet filed her tax returns for 2005 and 2007, respectively.

But the more recent revelation about the Republican gubernatorial candidate's tax troubles came to light because the family business whose books she brags of having done since age 13 crossed the line, forcing state tax officials to take public action to collect the overdue taxes. As The Associated Press reported, the state Revenue Department filed tax liens against Ms. Haley's family business three times since 2003 — twice for failure to pay income taxes and once for failing to turn in the taxes it withheld from employees' paychecks. In all three cases, the taxes were at least 19 months past due when the state finally stopped negotiating with the company and forced it to pay up.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.thestate.com.