The Dauphin County Tax Claim Bureau recently slapped a delinquency notice on the front door of a Harrisburg row home. It proclaimed the owner to be $452.02 in arrears for 2011 county property taxes.
The house is in the shadow of the Capitol, and its owner is one of the longest serving members in the state House, Philadelphia Democrat Mark Cohen.
“This goes beyond the pale,” said Eric Epstein of government watchdog Rock the Capitol. “I'm almost speechless. I don't know how you owe back taxes on a home that taxpayers are paying for.”
In 2011, as abc27 reported Thursday, Cohen was the prince of per diems. He claimed nearly $40,000 in mostly tax-free, taxpayer money that's intended to reimburse lawmakers for lodging and meal expenses while on business. But neighbors tell us the Harrisburg row home is Cohen's lodging most days.
“Per diems were not designed as an investment vehicle,” said Epstein. “Furthermore, we have to look at whether or not he's using his mortgage as a tax deduction. On top of that, we have to look at what happens to the money when he sells his home, that is, the profit. Does it go back to the taxpayers or does he pocket it?”
Cohen repeatedly refuses to comment to abc27, but he is chatting via Facebook. After our per diem story, a Facebook friend asked Cohen why abc27 was picking on him?
Cohen's response in part “They're looking for scalps. I may well be the hardest working state legislator. What it comes down to is that I take very few days off, and they are trying to turn that into a scandal.”
As for his delinquent Dauphin County tax bill, we called Cohen's office at 1 p.m. and informed a staffer that we were running a story on his delinquency and sought comment.. By 2 p.m., a Dauphin County official reported “someone just came in and paid Cohen's property taxes.” So the House member is no longer in arrears for his Harrisburg house. But guess who likely paid the tab?
“That's the sad part,” said Epstein. “The way he's gonna address this and reconcile his back tax problem is to take other per diems he doesn't need.”
abc27 checked with Harrisburg officials who told us Cohen is current on all of his city and school district taxes.