WASHINGTON — Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), dean of the California congressional delegation, has claimed his Maryland home as his principal residence to qualify for a $3,770 tax break, even though it is thousands of miles from the Northern California district he represents -- and where he is registered to vote.
A senior member of the House's tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Stark said he was unaware that he might not be eligible for the tax break. Asked whether it was questionable for him to receive it, he said, "I guess it is."
To qualify, a property must be the owner's principal residence: He or she must live there at least six months of the year, use the address for voter registration and driver's license purposes, and file Maryland income taxes.
Stark is registered to vote at his wife's parents' address in San Lorenzo and has a California driver's license. He said his 3,600-square-foot Maryland home, on 6.35 acres with an assessed value of about $1.6 million, is the only residence he owns. He rents a town house in Fremont.
Stark's claiming of the homestead tax credit, first reported by Bloomberg News, is under review by the Anne Arundel County Department of Assessments and Taxation, said Joseph Glorioso, the department's supervisor.
"So if we're turned down, we're turned down," Stark said in an interview outside the House chamber Thursday. He said he was under the impression that he qualified for the tax break if the home is "your only residence and you live there more than six months a year."
Stark is the latest lawmaker to come under scrutiny for claiming the tax break. Recently, authorities revoked a tax break that Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) had claimed on a Maryland home.
Stark, 77, is an outspoken liberal who has served in the House since 1973. He once called a GOP House member a "fruitcake," and Republicans said Stark appeared ready to exchange blows in a 2003 incident in which Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield), then-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, called police to break up a meeting of Democrats. Stark ridiculed suggestions that a fight was about to erupt.
Stark is next in line to become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, now headed by Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), who is the subject of an ethics investigation.