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It has become the most recognizable building in the race for governor -- the colonial residence in Exeter, N.H. of Democratic candidate Maggie Hassan.
Hassan’s abode was a topic whispered about by the campaign of her rival Ovide Lamontagne for months but it wasn’t until the Republican Governors Association released an ad three weeks before the Nov. 6 election that it became water-cooler conversation.
"This is Maggie Hassan's half-million dollar home, a half-million dollar home that Hassan pays no property taxes on, zero property taxes," the narrator in the ad titled "Zero" declares.
The ad goes on to charge that when Hassan was the majority leader of the state Senate "she pushed 33 tax and fee increases for the rest of us on top of our property taxes."
"Maggie Hassan believes in higher taxes, just not for herself," the ad concludes.
PolitFact New Hampshire decided to examine the accuracy of this claim that in the closing weeks of this tight race has sparked plenty of controversy, including several requests by PolitiFact readers to check the ad.
The ad is part of the RGA's $5.8 million television advertising buy since the Sept. 11 primary, all spent on attacks against Hassan to benefit Republican Lamontagne.
Since the day the ad was released Hassan said it was misleading because it fails to mention that she and her husband, Tom, don't own the home. They live in it because he's the principal of Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the country's most exclusive prep schools in the country.
Hassan's camp maintains the ad tries to give the impression that she is a property tax scofflaw when in fact she's not.
Five days after the RGA ad came out, the Hassan campaign came back with its own ad titled "Action," which opens with the same image of the home and explains the school ownership.
Undeterred, the RGA through its Live Free PAC put up a second commercial titled "Hiding" with Hassan's home on it, and went back to the well.
"Maggie Hassan admits she pays zero property taxes on her half-million dollar home," it declares.
"Maggie Hassan pays no property taxes, but she likes high taxes for us."
RGA Communications Director Michael Schrimpf said his group's researchers went through property assessment records in Exeter and found out the Hassans paid no property taxes.
Phillips Exeter officials confirmed that Tom Hassan's contract requires that he live on campus in this home and that it be open and available for many school functions.
The home is valued at $545,900 by the town and is one of the school’s tax-exempt properties. If someone was paying taxes on it, the bill would be about $12,350 a year.
Private school property is tax-exempt on buildings used for instruction or administration. The Hassan residence qualifies under administration because the principal lives there. School officials listed the property on its tax-exempt application and the town approved.
Phillips Exeter Director of Communications Julie Quinn said the private school is still the largest property taxpayer in town paying $772,946 a year on parcels that are not tax-exempt such as dining halls and dormitories.
On top of claiming Hassan pays no property taxes, the RGA ad also declares Hassan likes taxing everybody else.
As PolitiFact noted in a previous checkon a Lamontagne claim that Hassan was a big spender during her time in office from 2004-2010, total state spending went up by 20 percent during that period. But looking at funds spent from state taxes and fees, spending actually went down, since the Democrats twice reopened the budget to make cuts.
It’s also true that when the 2010-11 state budget was out of balance, Gov. John Lynch and the Legislature, including Hassan, approved two bills that included revenue-raising taxes and fees that totaled more than $260 million.
While it's true the Hassans pay no property taxes, it’s for good reason. She does not own the home she lives in. It’s owned by Phillips Exeter Academy where her husband Tom is principal and he is required to live in the home. The building is one of the school’s tax exempt properties, but Phillips Exeter is still the town’s largest taxpayer.
The ad by the Republican Governor’s Association gives the impression that she's evading her own taxes while supporting increased taxes "for the rest of us." The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim to be Mostly False.
Interview with Michael Schrimpf, communications director of Republican Governors Association
Interview with Julie Quinn, director of communications with Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter
Interview with Dante Scala, political science chairman with University of New Hampshire.
E-mail interview with Matt Burgess, campaign manager for Democratic candidate for governor Maggie Hassan
Report on Property Taxes, state by state, 2004-09. Tax Foundation.
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