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The State

Simon Tripped Up by Queries on State Taxes

Campaign: A spokesman for GOP gubernatorial hopeful insists nominee has paid every year. 'This is enough,' candidate says. Davis camp keeps hammering on issue.

April 20, 2002|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon Jr. said Friday that he paid California income taxes for his earnings last year, but was unsure whether he had done so each year over the previous decade.

A campaign spokesman, James Fisfis, said later that Simon had, in fact, paid California income taxes every year since moving to the state in 1990.

The effort to explain Simon's tax history came as the multimillionaire candidate continued to refuse Gov. Gray Davis' demand that he release his past tax returns. Simon has requested an extension for filing his 2001 tax return.

"At some point you say, jeez, this is enough disclosure," Simon said.

Since the April 15 tax filing deadline, Davis has used Simon's refusal to release his returns as a weapon to cast Simon as a rich wheeler-dealer out of touch with ordinary Californians.

Simon, in turn, has compared Davis to Karl Marx and "Big Brother" for saying Simon should prove to voters that he paid his "fair share" of taxes.

On Wednesday, Simon sparked more criticism from the Davis campaign when he said he was unsure whether he paid any California income taxes last year.

But at a campaign stop on Friday in Anaheim, Simon said he knew he had paid state taxes last year but just lacked "the precise numbers" when reporters questioned him.

"I did pay taxes both in California and federally--and in some other states where it was appropriate," he said.

He declined to name the other states.

His efforts to tamp down discussion of his taxes were temporarily thwarted, however, when he was asked Friday whether he had paid California income taxes every year since he moved to the state from New Jersey in 1990.

"I don't have all my tax returns with me, and I don't carry them around with me," he said. "I can't necessarily tell you what was on the tax returns over a 10-year time frame when you just give me that question, not having known that it might be coming."

Fisfis said later that the campaign checked with Simon's accountants in New Jersey and confirmed the candidate had paid California income taxes every year since 1990.

The candidate's earlier inability to say for sure drew a new round of criticism from the Davis reelection campaign.

"It seems to me he's having trouble recalling what his own finances are," said Davis campaign spokesman Roger Salazar. "If he can't keep track of his own finances, how does he expect to keep track of California's $100-billion budgets?"

Simon said a finance disclosure report he was required by law to file in December already offered "a very exhaustive and extensive look at pretty much everything to do with my finances."

"It's not a matter of hiding anything," he said. "It's really more a matter of--we're on a campaign, and we're trying to talk about our message. And we want to try to make sure that we're receptive to questions as best as we can. But at some point you say, 'Enough is enough.'"

In the disclosure report, Simon listed scores of trusts, partnerships and corporations as assets or sources of income. In some areas, the 128-page report contains more information than might be found on a tax return, but in others it offers less.

Though candidates for statewide office are required to file the reports, they list ranges of income, not precise amounts.

Some stock sales, for example, are reported as income in the category of "over $100,000." Among the sales in that category are shares of Allied Waste Industries Inc., a garbage hauler, and Hanover Compressor Co., an energy exploration company.

Candidates are not legally required to release their tax returns, but voluntary disclosure has become routine. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have released their tax returns, and Davis disclosed his on Monday. Former Govs. Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian also released theirs when they were in office. Simon said Monday that he requested an extension for filing his 2001 tax returns because his finances were so complex that he "could not be reasonably expected" to file his returns by April 15.

The tax returns issue has been a weeklong distraction for Simon. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) chatted briefly with Simon at the campaign event in Anaheim, a fund-raiser for Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). Rohrabacher asked Simon in jest, "What's this about you not paying taxes?"

Simon responded, "This is crazy," Rohrabacher said.

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