McCaskill: Plane controversy was ‘serious, sloppy mistake’

The senator insists not paying the taxes on her private plane was an honest mistake.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., answers questions from the media after a presentation during the Economic Development Workshop on April 9, 2009 at the Columbia Elks Lodge. McCaskill called her family's failure to pay taxes on their private plane an honest mistake in a conference call last week. Maneater file photo

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is facing a final bill of nearly $320,000 in unpaid taxes on her small private plane, including $80,000 in interest. The senator insists this is all a “big, serious, sloppy mistake.”

In a conference call last week, she explained how the mistake came to be.

“I became aware that the perception of me chartering a flight that I had an ownership interest in had the appearance of impropriety in terms of using public funds,” she said. “I refunded that money immediately to the government.”

She said after paying the initial fee, she wanted to make sure there were no problems with taxes surrounding her plane, and began to look further into it.

“I began a thorough review of the plane and all of the flights that had been taken and all of the documentation surrounding the plane,” she said.

She said she then found a discrepancy involving property taxes on the plane.

“Even though we have paid the taxes to the state for sales tax, obviously making no attempt to hide the plane, I have discovered that the personal property taxes on the plane have not been paid,” she said. “I have learned that Missouri is one of a minority of states that require personal property taxes to be paid on airplanes that are hangered in the state, and that those are due to the county.”

Because of this law, there should have been a reporting to St. Louis County, where the plane was kept, but there was not because it was never declared to the county there was never a bill sent and never a bill paid, McCaskill said.

As a senator who stresses transparency and campaigns on the ideal of fighting corruption in Washington, McCaskill is facing heavy criticism for the plane gaffe, especially from opponents for the 2012 elections.

Sarah Steelman, who has already announced her bid for Senate, released a short video about the situation.

“McCaskill voted to raise your taxes, but didn’t pay her own,” the video stated. “She said she would clean up Washington, but instead she cleaned up at our expense.”

Ed Martin, another prospective senator, has taunted McCaskill with the title “AirClaire” ever since the scandal first surfaced.

“Missourians are tired of what is the worst of Washington, D.C. hypocrisy: the double standard of asking Missourians to play by the rules while the federal government and those in charge do as they want with waivers, bailouts, and no regard for the law,” he said. “It must stop and in 2012, we will send McCaskill home for good.”

McCaskill maintains that it was an honest mistake that she takes responsibility for, and said she will strive to remain transparent and honest with the public.

“I’ve been sick to my stomach for four days that this happened,” she said. “I really do feel that a lot of people are going to feel, like how in the world do they not self report this airplane? And somebody made a mistake, and I made a mistake by not checking to make sure somebody hadn’t made a mistake.”

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