Now that he sees a potential opportunity to improve his political future in New York, Ford has been telling his potential supporters that he’s been living in the state for the last three years. When you consider that he has an office in NYC for his role as a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and has married (and living with) a woman who resides in New York, I think the average joe would probably accept that he’s been a New York resident for that period of time. The only problem is that he hasn’t been paying New York income taxes and will only do so for the first time this April (conveniently, right in time for his decision to run for Senate).
Ford claims to have moved to New York three years ago, and says paying "New York taxes" makes him a New Yorker. But his spokeswoman confirms to Gawker that he's never filed a New York tax return — meaning that he's never paid New York's income tax, despite keeping an office and a residence in New York City as a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch since 2007: "He pays New York taxes and will file a New York tax return in April for the first time," Ford's spokeswoman Tammy Sun told Gawker. "He will file all necessary personal disclosure and tax forms that candidates are required to file if he chooses to run." (According to Sun, Ford admitted to the tax dodge yesterday at a press availability in Albany, but we can't find any news accounts mentioning the remarks.)Ford’s situation really highlights two things that are rather disturbing. Firstly, it shows how the extremely wealthy are able to manipulate the system in order to avoid responsibilities that average citizens can’t avoid. With so many people losing their jobs and millions of people unable to even pay their mortgages on a single home, after all, Harold Ford is able to keep an extra home in Tennessee in order to escape paying state income taxes. The fact that he’s able to do this is yet another example of the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else and only fuels that populist anger that we’re seeing.
Ford presumably decided that his real home was Tennessee, which conveniently has no income tax. Which means that, despite the fact that New York law requires part-time and nonresidents to pay income tax on money they earn in the state, Ford has shielded his entire Merrill Lynch salary from New York's tax collectors for the past three years. In fact, it seems like Tennessee's lack of an income tax may be the best explanation for Ford's rather complicated two-state life since 2007 — he clearly wanted to live in New York, and married a woman in 2008 who did live in New York. But he made sure to keep a foot in a state whose tax code is friendly to rich guys like himself.
Secondly, this goes to show that there are some politicians who are so out of touch with the public that they think voters won’t care (or won’t find out) when they do something immoral or illegal. We’re constantly receiving updates about how John Edwards got caught when he thought he wouldn’t get caught doing something unacceptable. In my opinion, Ford’s indiscretions are worse because he actually was trying to avoid a responsibility that could have helped some of the people that he now hopes to represent (the state income taxes on the millions of dollars that he’s earned, for instance, could have helped fund someone’s unemployment insurance). While I’m a believer in second chances, I think Ford and Edwards (who I originally supported in the presidential primaries) are prime examples of why people simply do not trust politicians. What’s truly unfortunate is that these stories will get much more attention that the dedicated elected officials who are behaving themselves and are truly in public service because they want to make a difference.
What this really comes down to is that the voters of New York shouldn’t allow Harold Ford to receive the Democratic nomination for US Senate. If he can’t even commit to paying his state income taxes in New York, then the voters shouldn’t commit to supporting his candidacy.