Biden Releases His Tax Returns

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife released 10 years of returns.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife released 10 years of returns. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Lyndsey Layton and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic vice presidential nominee, released 10 years of tax returns yesterday, attempting to put fresh pressure on his Republican counterpart to release her tax records.

Biden (D-Del.) and his wife, Jill Biden, reported a gradually increasing income over the past decade, though nothing approaching the wealth of other members of the Senate. The couple earned a combined $206,969 in 1999, and $248,754 in 2007, largely from Biden's Senate salary and from both of their teaching careers.

The earnings would make him well off by most standards, but in the Senate, he is the poorest of the lot, according to a review of financial disclosures by the Center for Responsive Politics. The wealthiest member is Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who had a maximum net worth of $313,990,127, according to the review.

The disclosure came as Democrats tried to put increasing pressure on the Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to release her returns. Progressive groups said they want to determine whether Palin skirted tax obligations on about $17,000 in per diem payments she received as part of an arrangement that paid her extra for the nights she stayed in her home in Wasilla instead of the governor's mansion in Juneau, 600 miles away.

The Alaska director of finance, Kim Garnero, wrote in an e-mail yesterday that the state does not consider the payments to be taxable income. Accounting experts are mixed on the issue, with some tax courts deeming such payments as taxable and others ruling that they are exempt.

At issue is the location of the governor's "tax home," which the Internal Revenue Service defines as the location where most of the individual's business is performed. Palin stayed in her Wasilla home 312 nights or 54 percent of the time period when she claimed the per diem, from Dec. 4, 2006, until June 30, 2008. She drove 45 miles to a state office building in Anchorage to conduct business. Her staff has said she performs most of her work from the Anchorage office.

That would appear to make Wasilla the governor's "tax home," which would mean that under IRS regulations, any per diem she received for staying in that home is considered taxable.

But Garnero said the state considers Juneau to be the governor's "duty station" or tax home, which would make her eligible for per diem payments for time spent away from that place, even if it were in the governor's Wasilla residence.

The $60-a-day allowance is available for state employees when traveling on official state business to cover meals and other expenses. Her salary is $125,000 a year.

Biden also prefers to sleep in his own bed at night. When the Senate is in session, Biden famously commutes by train between Washington and Delaware. But members of Congress do not receive a per diem.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company