Legislator Dave Carson, noting the rising bankruptcy filings, says, "As you know, we share some very illustrious company in that respect."
Two conservative lawmakers who led the tax revolt last year and a wanna-be conservative representative are fending off tax collectors outside the legislature.
Representatives Don Aldridge of Lake Havasu City and Dave Carson of Prescott and former representative John King of Phoenix own a corporation that owes nearly $25,000 in back taxes to different government agencies. The three Republicans are the only ones listed as stockholders in the Lucky Communications, Inc., which owns KLKY-AM radio station in Prescott Valley.
Lucky Communications filed for protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy rules on August 23, according to federal court records. Records show the corporation owes $19,898.74 to the Internal Revenue Service, $4,334.70 to the Yavapai County Treasurer and $262.34 to the Arizona Department of Economic Security. A potential debt to the Arizona Department of Revenue is also cited, but no amount is listed. The records list $107,159.40 in total debts plus two outstanding lawsuits for further pending claims. According to the filing, all the debts are being disputed by the corporation.
The station still is on the air, broadcasting a mix of big band, news and talk shows--seemingly the perfect mix for a town labeled "Sun City North" because of its many retirees. The two lawmakers say they can't take credit for the fiscal disaster. King, a former District 25 representative who will try to reclaim his seat in the November 6 general election, couldn't be reached for comment.
"I'm just a stockholder," Aldridge complains. "I don't have anything to do with the management. When I got into it, the straight scoop wasn't given to me or I wouldn't have been into it.
"When we went into it, it was supposed to be doing real well. Nine months later, I found out that the company had lost $70,000 in the previous fiscal year. There's nothing I can do now except try to get it back on its feet."
Carson echoes his legislative mate. "It was like a newspaper where nobody could write," he says, moaning about employees.
Both lawmakers say they took a hands-off approach to the "day-to-day" operations, but made the major decisions such as purchases, leases, the recent staff firings and the determination to put the company under the protection of the bankruptcy court.
"As you know, we share some very illustrious company in that respect," says Carson. "The Chapter 11s are at an all-time high in Arizona, only exceeded by California and not exceeded by that much. There's scads of even major corporations in Chapter 11."
According to Carson, King has wanted to sell for the past two years and hasn't been in on decision-making. Now, Aldridge and Carson say they want to sell. (Aldridge says an out-of-state church group may buy it.)
Carson, chairman of the House Tourism, Professions, and Occupations Committee and a member of the Banking and Insurance Committee, sees no irony in his corporation's tax troubles.
"The two things don't mesh as far as I'm concerned," Carson says. "I don't know the personal businesses of other lawmakers or state elected officials. But any number of them could have that problem. That has nothing at all to do with state government."
Aldridge, chairman of the Public Institutions and Rural Development Committee and a member of the Commerce Committee, says he was infuriated to find out that taxes weren't paid. At a meeting with previous staff members, the lawmaker says, he confronted the manager about the delinquent taxes. "I could never get a straight story on the books," he says. "We found out we were in arrearage in taxes. We told the manager, `Don't you ever not pay the taxes.' At that point, we had to put in another $20,000 to cover expenses."
Speaker of the House Jane Dee Hull says there is nothing ethically wrong with lawmakers owing back taxes. She says her only concern would be if they voted for legislation from which they could profit.
Profits currently aren't an issue. The lawmakers say the station's revenue is up and they are working to pay back all the debts, including the back taxes.
"I just want my money out of it," Aldridge says.
Carson says, "I've never gotten one cent out of it. I would have to say it's been a bad investment."
The legislators are learning one of the cardinal rules of running a small business. "You shouldn't go into business in something you don't know anything about," Carson says. "It was kind of like going into business in a catfish farm. I had no idea what I was getting into.