Haley's tax records show mishaps, liens

South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley has touted her experience as bookkeeper for her family's business. Tax records show the store has been penalized for not paying taxes.

COLUMBIA --- On the campaign trail, South Carolina GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley frequently cites her experience as the accountant for her family's clothing store, saying she oversaw its growth to a multi-million dollar operation, and the state needs such skills.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show the company has been penalized three times since 2003 for not paying taxes. In each case, the taxes were at least 19 months past due.

Two of the tax liens were for failing to pay corporate income taxes and one was for not turning over taxes withheld from employee checks. The company paid nearly $4,000 to remove them, with 43 percent covering penalties and interest. Credit records on the business show it frequently pays operating bills more than a month late, compared with an industry average of 10 days late.

In response, Haley's campaign said Thursday she is running, in part, because she wants to cut taxes that are too burdensome.

A key part of Haley's economic plan is to eliminate corporate income taxes, an idea the Legislature rejected earlier this year.

"The reason why I know I'm the right person to go into this next position is because I'm an accountant who knows what it means to stretch a dollar," Haley, a state House member, has said, citing her experience as being the family's bookkeeper since the age of 13.

Last month, a review of Haley's personal income taxes since 2004 showed she has repeatedly paid fines for failing to pay them on time, including twice filing more than 14 months late.

Research by AP turned up a fourth lien on her family's business from 2005, with a total of $601 resolved less than a month later, but a note says "filed in error." The state Revenue Department could not explain what that meant.

Tax experts say a state tax lien is filed only after a long, back-and-forth process between the government and the business. They also say the withholding penalty is more serious, since it involves the company taking money from employees but not sending it to the government.

The withholding tax lien against the clothing store accounted for $326 of the $3,928 paid to resolve the three liens.

Haley, Sheheen comment on the findings

Republican Nikki Haley's campaign declined to discuss the specifics of the liens against her family business Thursday, but did release a statement in response.

"As a family, we saw how hard it was to make a dollar and how easy it was for government to take it," Haley said in a statement. "I'm committed to making government friendlier to the people and businesses it serves."

The campaign of Haley's opponent, Democrat Vincent Sheheen, says characterizing the taking of employees' money as red tape is a fundamental misunderstanding of the law.

"Every time she touches a balance sheet, she leaves behind a trail of tax liens and penalties. If Rep. Haley really is an accountant, she is as incompetent as her mentor is at job recruitment," Sheheen spokesman Trav Robertson said, referring to Gov. Mark Sanford and the state's struggles with record-high unemployment.

-- Associated Press

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