One day before what already was bound to be a contentious special session of the New Mexico Legislature, the state Republican Party attacked Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, accusing the high-ranking Democrat of violating a state tax law.
State GOP Chairman Debbie Maestas charged Thursday that Sanchez illegally claimed a “Head-of-Family” property-tax exemption on two different houses he owns — his residence in Belen and a rental house in Albuquerque.
Sanchez is a frequent target of both the state Republican Party — which usually refers to him as “Senate Boss” — and Gov. Susana Martinez’s political operatives. Both are expected to make a strong effort to unseat him in the November general election.
The GOP hit came a day after an Albuquerque-based liberal activist group, Progress Now New Mexico, made a similar accusation against Sanchez’s Republican opponent in the Senate election, Greg Baca of Belen.
Sanchez said he believes the Republican complaint against him is retaliation for the Progress Now attack on Baca.
Maestas pulled no punches in a news release. “Sanchez is a corrupt Democrat falsely touting himself as a Senator working for New Mexicans, all the while cheating the system to benefit himself,” she said.
“Not only has Sen. Sanchez violated tax law by fraudulently double-dipping on an exemption, his actions call into question whether he even lives in the district he claims to represent,” Maestas asserted.
Sanchez denied any intentional wrongdoing.
“Despite what the Republican party has alleged, I have never requested or intentionally claimed the ‘Head-of-Family’ exemption for the Bernalillo County property,” he said in a statement. “At the time of purchase, I was unaware the exemption was carried over from a previous owner. It was a mistake and will be corrected immediately.”
Sanchez added, “I think my case can be instructive for people who own two properties in New Mexico because individual county assessors may not always be aware whether a taxpayer is eligible or not for the exemption. Once it is claimed by the original property owner, the exemption is automatically applied to the property every year even after a change in ownership.”
Sanchez told The New Mexican that he purchased the Albuquerque house in 2010 from his son, Joshua Sanchez. He said he was not aware that he was getting the exemption on the Albuquerque house. “My wife checked and we can’t find any documents in which either of us requested the exemption for that property,” he said. “This looks like a flaw in our system.”
He said his wife plans to go to the Bernalillo County Assessor’s Office on Friday to see how much money might be owed. “If there’s any taxes or penalties, I’ll pay it,” he said.
He said anyone who knows him in Valencia County knows he lives there and not in Albuquerque.
The exemption knocks $2,000 off a property’s taxable value. The complaint shows that the Albuquerque house had a taxable value of $35,304 this year. The exemption took that figure down to a net taxable value of $33,304.
The Republican news release said the party filed complaints against Sanchez concerning his property tax with the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office. However, party spokesman Tucker Keene said Thursday that he had arrived in Santa Fe too late to file with the Secretary of State’s Office but would mail in the complaint.
The Progress Now website this week showed Republican candidate Baca’s Albuquerque home had a taxable value of $58,127. The “Head-of-Family” exemption plus Baca’s exemption for being a military veteran took that value down to $52,127.
Baca couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday evening.
“Politics is a contact sport,” Sanchez said. “There are going to be a lot more attacks on me in the weeks to come.”