Santorum withdraws tax break claim for Penn Hills house

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U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum no longer claims a contentious property tax exemption on a home in suburban Pittsburgh, according to Allegheny County real estate records.

The change came before Allegheny County Council was scheduled to vote on legislation calling for strengthened oversight -- and in some cases prosecution -- of property owners who improperly claim a "homestead exemption."

The exemption is a property-tax break that can only be claimed on a primary residence. It is worth about $70 a year.

Mr. Santorum has a home in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills and one in Virginia, where he and his family live most of the year.

In a letter dated Sept. 18, Mr. Santorum requested that county officials remove his name from the tax-exemption list. Mr. Santorum wrote that his Penn Hills home is his primary residence and that he qualifies for the exemption, but that he was voluntarily giving it up.

"Because the tax status of my home has been the subject of recent news reports . . . I have voluntarily elected not to claim the homestead exemption for my Penn Hills residence," he wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Although many Washington lawmakers have two homes, some Democrats have used the tax issue to paint Mr. Santorum as a Beltway insider disconnected from his constituents. Mr. Santorum, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, is in a closely watched race with Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey.

The county council legislation was first introduced on Sept. 12 and was to be voted on this evening. Proponents argue it is necessary to reduce fraud, but Mr. Santorum's campaign has said the issue is politically motivated and designed to mislead voters.

The senator had already verbally requested that his name be removed from the exemption list, but Council President Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat, asked recently that Mr. Santorum submit the request in writing.

As recently as Thursday evening, Allegheny County's property assessment Web site indicated that Mr. Santorum was claiming the exemption.

County officials did not immediately return a call about when the change occurred.

Mr. Santorum's name has not been mentioned during past council debate on the legislation, which has focused instead on budget and good governance issues.



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