State Senate leader David A. Roberti and his wife paid $33,000 in federal and state taxes on an income of $125,000 last year, including $65,000 that they earned from the sale of a rental house in the Sacramento area, according to his tax returns.
His Republican opponent, Carol Rowen, declined to release her returns, saying she files jointly with her husband, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, and he refused to make the documents public.
Rowen had said in a Times questionnaire in April that she would release her and her spouse's returns for the past five years if other candidates did. Instead, she provided a one-page memo on her finances, prepared by her accountant.
The memo said she earned $56,000 in commissions from selling life insurance in 1991, plus $48,000 from her job at a Los Angeles firm that administers pension plans. But the document did not indicate what she paid in taxes or all the deductions she took in the past five years.
Roberti used Rowen's failure to disclose her returns to attack her, saying she is trying to cover up evidence that her investments are "riddled with tax shelters" and that she is not paying her fair share of taxes.
"It's a disgrace that she's afraid to be candid," he said. "It's an even greater disgrace that she lied to the press when she thought no one would call her on it."
Rowen denied having any tax-sheltered investments or deducting any business losses from her taxes since 1987. But she later provided figures showing she wrote off losses from a Nevada-based concern set up to drill for natural gas.
She said she could not release her returns because her husband, Superior Court Judge Marvin Rowen, "just absolutely put his foot down" and refused to.
"When I filled the form out, I didn't think it was that big a deal, and it isn't," Rowen said, referring to The Times questionnaire. "We've been married 37 years. I'm just not going to make that big a deal about it."
Roberti and Rowen are battling in a close and bitter June 2 special election to replace Alan Robbins in the 20th Senate District, which covers Van Nuys and other parts of the south-central San Fernando Valley. Robbins resigned after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Three minor-party candidates also seek the seat.
Roberti's returns for last year showed that he and his wife, June, purchased a house in Citrus Heights, a Sacramento suburb, in 1988 and sold it last year for $128,000, earning a pretax profit of $65,871. In addition, he earned $3,366 in income from bank interest and mutual funds.
Over five years, Roberti earned a total taxable income of $382,624 and paid $68,622 in taxes, according to his returns.
During the same period, he also earned at least $91,281 in per diem payments from the state for attending sessions of the Legislature. The vast majority of that money is not taxable and does not appear on his returns.
Roberti's taxable income included $106,600 in speaking fees paid to him by special-interest groups. He stopped accepting such fees after the Legislature banned them last year.
Rowen's memo said she earned a gross income over the past five years of $328,537. It said she deducted business expenses of $93,599 and charitable contributions of $69,367. The gifts were primarily to Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
Asked what other deductions she took, Rowen said: "Truthfully, what you see is everything that would appear on the tax returns, except for my husband's income and the taxes that we paid . . . the deductions and the mortgage interest."
Roberti said Rowen's refusal to disclose her tax returns gives an "awful lot of credibility to our suspicions that she's hiding" investments in tax shelters.
He pointed to a recent newspaper interview in which Rowen said she worked from 1983 to 1985 as marketing director for a firm that was "involved in tax-sheltered land investments."
Roberti charged that one of those shelters is an entity based in Reno, Nev., called WEC 1984A Program. In an assets-disclosure report filed with the state, Rowen said she invested between $10,000 and $100,000 in WEC, which she described as a limited partnership that drills for natural gas.
In an interview Friday, Rowen said WEC was not a tax shelter but "strictly an investment that provided a return." She said it earned her about $300 a year. But she later provided figures showing she deducted $798 on her taxes from losses incurred by WEC in 1987 and 1988.
Roberti said partnership documents for WEC indicate it was set up to drill for oil in addition to natural gas.
He said his campaign staff searched government records in Nevada but could find no indication that any actual drilling was performed. But Rowen said WEC did some drilling. "I think in Oklahoma," she said.
Roberti said it is "a very good surmise" that WEC is a tax shelter. He noted that many investors took paper losses from businesses set up to drill for oil and gas until such deductions were eliminated in the 1986 tax code reform.