Sen. Sherrod Brown received an extra property tax credit

CLEVELAND — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, for years claimed an owner-occupancy tax credit at two properties, public records show — a potential violation of the state’s rules governing such incentives.

Brown and his wife, journalist Connie Schultz, also were late paying the tax bill on their Cleveland house at least seven times since purchasing it in 2013, missing a payment deadline as recently as February, according to documents kept by the Cuyahoga County treasurer. At one point in 2015, the county labeled them as delinquent after they failed for months to pay a nearly $1,200 bill.

Responding to questions from NBC News, Brown and Schultz this week paid a $390 penalty stemming from their most recent late payment. Brown also repaid Franklin County, where he owns a condo in Columbus, for occupancy credits he should not have received, his campaign manager, Rachel Petri, said Wednesday. She did not say what caused the errors.

“They made a mistake, have taken care of it, and paid Franklin County,” Petri said.

Brown will no longer accept the owner-occupancy credit on the Columbus property, according to his campaign. Jennifer Lockrey, a spokesperson for the Franklin County auditor, confirmed that the credit has been removed. The county’s treasurer, Cheryl Brooks Sullivan, confirmed that a $616 payment was made Tuesday.

Lockrey noted that sometimes such errors are attributable to paperwork done by title companies.

“It’s not an unusual occurrence for owners of more than one property,” Lockrey said.

The tax issues come to light as Brown, who chairs the Senate’s Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, prepares for a tough re-election bid in 2024. And they echo stories that have dogged his past campaigns. In 2012, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported on tax delinquencies involving a condo Brown owned in Washington, D.C.

“I misplaced the bill and I paid it as soon as I found out,” Brown said at the time, according to the newspaper. “I paid a penalty for being late, and it won’t happen again.”

Brown’s acceptance of the two 2.5% tax credits — which since 2019 had saved him more than $1,000 between the two properties — could have yielded scrutiny from local tax collectors unaware that he was receiving the benefit in two counties. The senator and Schultz have claimed the credit on their Cleveland home for a decade, records show. Brown had received the credit on his downstate Columbus condo since at least 2019, according to documents available online via the Franklin County treasurer. 

State and local officials, citing Ohio law and explicit requirements for eligibility, emphasized to NBC News that owner-occupancy tax credits are intended for only one property. To claim the credit twice, a married couple would have to demonstrate that they live separately.

A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Taxation pointed to several excerpts from state law when asked what consequences a couple could face if a county auditor or treasurer found that they had improperly claimed the tax credit at two properties. One section states that the property owners could be required to pay back what they weren’t entitled to, plus interest.

Cuyahoga County records show that Brown and Schultz are both registered to vote at the Cleveland address, which serves as their primary residence. Schultz has written about how the couple, who previously lived in an upscale suburb, wanted to be part of the city’s revival. During the housing crisis of the early 2000s, their zip code led the nation in foreclosures. 

As for their late payments, publicly available copies of property tax bills for Brown and Schultz’s Cleveland home show fees for missing deadlines on their 2022, 2021, 2019, 2018, 2015 and 2014 taxes. Two penalties related to their 2014 tax bill triggered the delinquency. All of those charges have since been settled, including the $390 fee paid Tuesday, said Mary Louise Madigan, a spokesperson for Cuyahoga County. Franklin County tax records available online show no late payments or penalties for Brown’s Columbus condo — purchased in 2014 — over the last four years. Schultz is not listed as an owner on the tax bill for the Columbus property.  

U.S. senators are paid $174,000 a year. Brown, 70, a former Ohio secretary of state and state lawmaker who joined the Senate in 2007, also noted $26,000 in 2021 income from Ohio’s state retirement fund in his most recent personal financial disclosure form. That document also listed $133,000 to $395,000 in joint assets against $200,000 to $500,000 in two mortgages identified as liabilities. The full scope of Schultz’s income was not provided, but in 2021 she earned more than $5,000 in speaking and freelance writing fees in addition to book royalties and salaries from Kent State University and USA Today.   

“Every single Ohioan is expected to pay their taxes on time,” said Philip Letsou, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, “but Sherrod Brown apparently thinks he’s too important to pay his own.”

Ohio schools are heavily reliant on property tax revenue, and late payments affect their accounting. A Cleveland schools official told The Plain Dealer in 2019 that the district draws up budgets on the expectation that it will collect 88% of what it’s owed in a particular year. 

Brown’s re-election battle is expected to be among the most expensive and competitive in the country next year as both parties jostle for control of the Senate. 

Ohio, once a closely fought battleground, has trended more Republican over Brown’s time in office. He’s the only Democrat who has consistently won statewide elections, but is likely to face a strong and well-funded challenge. The GOP primary to take on Brown already features wealthy candidates such as state Sen. Matt Dolan and Cleveland-area businessman Bernie Moreno. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson are considering bids, as well.

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