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State Sen. Brickwood Galuteria admitted Monday that he has improperly claimed a rental property in Palolo as his primary residence and will likely have to pay back taxes on the nearly $1.8 million home.
He said he moved out of the home several years ago and has since been living in Kakaako, which is part of the district he represents.
Galuteria made the admission after a complaint was filed with the city Office of Elections last fall claiming he should not have been allowed to vote in the 12th Senate District or run for office representing that district, which includes parts of Waikiki, Ala Moana, Kakaako, McCully and Moiliili.
The complainant, Richard Baker, noted that Galuteria was claiming he lived in a Kakaako apartment even though he was receiving a primary residence tax exemption for the Palolo property.
Galuteria has been the 12th District senator since 2008, and was re-elected in November.
The senator said he had been claiming a homeowner’s tax exemption when he lived in Palolo after he purchased the house in 2005, and continued to do so after he moved to Kakaako.
“Sometimes you just forget about it,” he said, adding he may have to pay back taxes dating to 2006 or 2007. He said he doesn’t yet know how much that might cost, but added, “We’re going to take care of it the best as we can.”
According to city tax records, the senator and his wife have claimed an $80,000 exemption on their Palolo property since 2007. In 2006, they claimed a $40,000 exemption on the property.
City law requires that homeowners only claim a tax exemption on property that is their principal home.
City spokesman Adam LeFebvre said Monday that the city is in the process of calculating how much money in back taxes Galuteria owes.
“It defies logic that all three people could really be living together in this 548 sq. ft. one-bedroom apartment, with all three sharing a single bathroom.” — Richard Baker, complainant
Baker, a resident of Hawaii Kai who supported Galuteria’s opponent, Chris Lethem, last election, brought the complaint against Galuteria to the city Office of Elections last fall. The retired foreign service officer contended that Galuteria either did not live in Kakaako or was committing tax fraud by claiming a homeowner tax exemption for property elsewhere.
The City Elections Office plans to issue a ruling this week on its investigation into whether Galuteria properly voted in the 12th Senate District last November.
In his voter registration form, Galuteria listed an apartment in the Royal Capital Plaza condominium in Kakaako as his place of residence.
Baker said he doubts that Galuteria actually lives there. He said on their voter registration forms, Galuteria’s wife and mother both claimed the one-bedroom apartment as their place of residency as well.
“It defies logic that all three people could really be living together in this 548 sq. ft. one-bedroom apartment, with all three sharing a single bathroom,” Baker wrote in his letter to the Honolulu City Clerk.
Baker is a member of Kakaako United, a citizens’ group that opposed the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ efforts to allow condos on Kakaako Makai. Galuteria supported the residential development.
Galuteria told Civil Beat on Monday that he was upset by the allegations and said that he is living in Kakaako with his mother and wife because he is a caregiver.
“I try to keep my life private and I find it terribly disingenuous for anybody to try and go into these areas,” Galuteria said. “I need to protect my family, not for us to be a public spectacle for some people who find it necessary to delve into these areas.”
Galuteria said he has been a “target” of Baker, who previously brought a state ethics complaint against Galuteria alleging that the senator should not vote on proposals that benefit OHA because he was employed by Robert Lindsey Jr., an OHA trustee. The ethics commission concluded that the complaint did not have merit in part because the state ethics law exempts lawmakers from being subject to the provision regarding conflicts of interest and leaves it up to the Legislature to deal with such issues internally.
In his complaint before the City Elections Office, Baker also questioned whether Galuteria should be paying more taxes on property he owns in Kaneohe. But the senator said that he purchased a home there less than a year ago and property records show he didn’t claim a tax exemption last year.
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said Monday that she hasn’t received a formal complaint against Galuteria regarding his residency, but that if she does, she will look into it.
Galuteria served as chairman for the Democratic Party of Hawaii in 2004. Last year, he served as Senate majority leader, and this year he is the vice-chair of the Committee on Water and Land.
Baker said he was pleased that the city is calculating back taxes owed and plans to submit a formal complaint to Kim regarding the question of Galuteria’s residency.
“It’s the first time that I’ve heard something of this sort get genuine attention and something done about it,” Baker said. “That’s very good news that the system is finally moving.”
The allegations against Galuteria follow another high-profile case regarding the residency of a legislator, former House Speaker Calvin Say. Critics argued that the former House Speaker didn’t live in his district but a court concluded that it’s up to legislative leadership to determine whether Say is allowed to represent his district. The House took no action against Say, and a complaint is pending.