If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past four years, it’s that reimbursements and access to money for gas seem to give Arkansas politicians an absurd amount of trouble. For many, including Tea Party types who ran on “smaller government . . . more accountability“1, the apparent ability to pocket some extra cash under the guise of mileage or reimbursements is just too tempting, I suppose.
Whether you chalk it up to ignorance or avarice, every person who takes reimbursements in excess of his actual expenses raises the dual problems of tax issues2 and violations of Amendment 70.3 For as bad as your standard legislative-reimbursement or Secretary-of-State-abusing-gas-card story is, however, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr has somehow managed to create a perfect storm of mileage/gas abuses that are actually even more egregious (in terms of IRS/tax consequences, as well as ethics).
You see, Dark Marr’s problem, like that of the Andrea Gail, has three fronts. The first, which we’ll deal with today, is that he takes mileage reimbursement for non-deductible mileage, including commuting from his home in Springdale to Little Rock at times when he should already actually be in Little Rock.
Mileage To/From Springdale
By law, Mark Darr’s office must be in Little Rock.4 That’s why he has a suite of offices on the second floor of the Capitol.
Now, despite the fact that Darr lives in Northwest Arkansas, the IRS is very clear that the miles a person drives to and from work are not tax-deductible. This is true whether your commute is 5 miles or 150 miles. Likewise, if you don’t live and regularly work in the same metropolitan area, a trip from home to a business meeting, then back home, without ever going to your office, is generally not deductible.5
So, given all of that…these are interesting. To save you from having to pore through the PDFs, I’ll summarize some of the highlights:
- Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013: $82.74 in mileage to drive from Little Rock to Springdale.
- Friday, Feb. 15, 2013: $165.48, Springdale to Hot Springs and back.
- Friday, Feb. 22, 2013: $46.20, Springdale to Alma and back to “meet Senator Holland.”
- Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013: $165.48, Springdale to Little Rock “for Nucor tour.”
- Monday, May 6, 2013: $76.44, Springdale to Mansfield and back.
- Wednesday, May 8, 2013:6 $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock.
- Thursday, May 9, 2013:7 $82.74, Little Rock to Springdale.
- Wednesday, May 14, 2013:8 $82.74, Springdale to Hot Springs.
- Friday, May 16, 2013: $82.74, Hot Springs to Springdale.
- Wednesday, May 22, 2013:9 $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock.
- Thursday, May 23, 2013:10 $82.74, Little Rock to Springdale.
- Wednesday, May 29, 2013: $56.28, Springdale to Fort Smith and back to “meet with Senator Holland,” because apparently phones don’t exist.
- Thursday, May 30, 2013:11 $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock
- Monday, July 15, 2013: $83.16, Springdale to Little Rock.
- Friday, July 19, 2013: $89.46, “home from NLGA Annual Meeting” in Oklahoma City, OK, to Springdale.
- Tuesday, July 23, 2013: $165.48, Springdale to Little Rock and back, specifically for a press conference held at the State Capitol.
- Tuesday, July 30, 2013: $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock to “[meet] staff in Little Rock to go to Hot Springs for meeting.”
- Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013: $82.74, Little Rock to Springdale after Hot Springs meetings ended.
Again, those are just the highlights, and they are just from 2013. If you want to go back further and check the highlights from 2012, you can see that this isn’t a new trend:
- Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012: $101.64, Springdale to Mt. Home and back.
- Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012: $168, Springdale to Little Rock and back.
- Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012: $123.48, Springdale to Mena and back, all to “visit and tour the Mena County Courthouse,” which actually isn’t a thing that exists.12
- Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012: $84.00, Springdale to Little Rock.
- Monday, Jan. 30, 2012: $142.80, Springdale to Conway and back in order to meet with Faulkner County Judge Preston Scroggin.
- Friday, Feb. 3, 2012: $168.00, Springdale to Little Rock and back for an interview with KARK.
- Monday, Feb. 6, 2012:13 $108.78, Arkadelphia (where he’d driven earlier that day from Little Rock) to Springdale.
- Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2012: $123.06, Monticello to Springdale.
- Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2012: $104.16, Springdale to Russellville and back.
- Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012: $166.32, Springdale to Little Rock and back. (Note: State Offices were not closed for some sort of holiday or anything on April 19 and 20, 2012, so . . . why go back to Springdale that night instead of staying and working the rest of the week?)
- Monday, May 7, 2012: $174.72, Springdale to Heber Springs and back.
- Wednesday, May 16, 2012: $153.72, Springdale to Hot Springs Village and back.
- Thursday, May 17, 2012: $83.16, Springdale to Romance; $63.84, Mt. View to Springdale.
- Wednesday, May 30, 2012: $91.14, Springdale to Searcy.
- Wednesday, June 6, 2012: $166.32, Springdale to Little Rock and back to have a meeting about the Online Checkbook14
- Tuesday, June 12, 2012: $101.64, Springdale to Mt. Home and back for visit with Sen. Boozman and Rep. Crawford.
- Friday, July 27, 2012: $82.74, Springdale to Hot Springs.
- Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012: $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock.
- Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012: $82.74, Little Rock to Springdale.
- Monday, Sept. 17, 2012: $104.16, Springdale to Russellville and back.
- Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012: $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock.
- Friday, Sept. 21, 2012: $82.74, Little Rock to Springdale.
- Friday, Sept. 28, 2012: $82.74, Springdale to Hot Springs.
- Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012: $165.48, Springdale to Little Rock and back in order to get official photo taken for Senate composite. (Which, in addition to not being deductible anyway, would not have cost taxpayers a single dime in reimbursement if Darr has already been in Little Rock as his job requires.)
- Friday, Nov. 30, 2012: $82.74, Springdale to Little Rock to sing the National Anthem at the Capitol Lighting Ceremony. (See previous parenthetical.)
- Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012: $88.20, Springdale to Bryant.
- Friday, Dec. 7, 2012: $84.42, Sherwood to Springdale.
- Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012: $52.08, Springdale to Russellville; $82.74, Little Rock to Springdale.
The problems here are manifold. First, look at how many of those take place on weekdays. Why in the world does Mark Darr need to drive from Springdale to Little Rock (and back!) for a meeting on a Wednesday? His office is in Little Rock by law. His job is in Little Rock. He should be in Little Rock if it is a work day.
Second, as explained above, most15 of those are not deductible mileage as far as the IRS is concerned. And there’s a word for money you get by taking mileage reimbursement for non-deductible mileage: income. That money has to be reported as income on your W-2. Taxes have to be paid on it. Oh, and, it’s absolutely violative of Amendment 70, since, by definition, it is extra income.
Coming tomorrow (or possibly Thurdsay), Part 2 of the mileage discussion, in which we contemplate the age-old question, “Does it matter in terms of reimbursable mileage if someone else is paying for your gas?”16
Choice quote from that video: “One reason why I’m running is because I feel like the state government’s too big, I feel like there’s no accountability in the tax dollars that they spend.”↩
Which, actually, have never really been dealt with, even in terms of the past legislative-reimbursement scandal. Excess reimbursements are income, end of story. How many legislators are you willing to bet actually reported that income (since it wasn’t on their W-2s)?↩
Amend. 70, sec. 1(a): “No official of the Executive Department shall be reimbursed by the State of Arkansas for any expenses except those reasonably connected to their official duties and only if such reimbursement is made for documented expenses actually incurred and from the regular budget appropriated for the official’s office. [. . . ] Except as provided herein, such officials of the Executive Department shall not receive any other income from the State of Arkansas, whether in the form of salaries or expenses.”↩
Ark. Const. Amendment 63, § 1: The Executive Department of this State shall consist of a . . . Lieutenant Governor . . . [who] shall keep [his] offices at the seat of government[.]”↩
IRS Ruling 99-7. See “Commuting vs. Transportation: What is Deductible?,” The Tax Adviser, October 2008, pp. 662, 665.↩
Which, let’s be clear, means that Darr spent all day on Tuesday, May 7, in Springdale instead of in Little Rock.↩
Which, again, means that he spent Thursday afternoon and all of Friday, May 10, in Springdale instead of in Little Rock.↩
Not a big fan of actually being in Little Rock, I guess.↩
Pretty much proving that the “job” of a Lt. Gov. is meaningless.↩
I give up. So much for the Constitutional requirement that you keep your office in Little Rock, dude.↩
I assume he means the Polk County Courthouse.↩
Because apparently spending a weekend in Little Rock was about all the time he could stand.↩
AKA The Only Thing Darr Has Ever Actually Accomplished As Lt. Gov.↩