Uncategorized — November 25, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Dick and Betsy DeVos avoided paying school taxes on summer home


Incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos doesn’t just want to expand school choice, provide (unconstitutional) school vouchers so parents can use state tax dollars to send their children to private and religious schools, and privatize our public schools. She’d rather not pay school taxes at all, and was nabbed in a tax dragnet by the state of Michigan for trying to avoid paying her fair share of taxes on one of the couple’s vacation homes in 2013.

[CC image credit: Keith A. Almli | Wikimedia Commons]
According to an August 2016 story in the Detroit News, Amway heir Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy were found to be in violation of the state’s “principal residence exemption” and ordered by the state of Michigan to pay more taxes following a 2013 state audit.

As reported by The News, “The audits target properties that claim a 100 percent principal residence exemption. The tax break saves property owners from paying school district taxes up to 18 mills.” In the case of the DeVos’, the couple had claimed their $7.8 million compound in Ada Township as a “principal residence,” but “the state denied part of the tax break for that year because the property was used for another purpose, such as a business or rental”.

The DeVos’ 22,000 square foot compound sits on 100 acres of lakefront property near Grand Rapids. According to a September 2016 feature on the family’s new digs, “Their three-story vacation home sets a new standard for size and grandeur among the other million-dollar-plus mansions that line Lake Macatawa, a popular spot with access to Lake Michigan. The stone and shingle house has 22,000 square feet of space. But if that’s not enough room, there’s a 6,200-square-foot guest house, plus a large infinity pool with a 700-square-foot pool house and three garages.” The complex includes a “17,000-square-foot home, 12,000-square-foot tennis club and a convention center.”

The couple does have their defenders. “It seems unfair to dun people who have, in many instances, worked hard to obtain that second home or cottage,” said Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “I don’t think many of them were born with silver spoons in their mouths.” Ms. DeVos and her husband have been major financial supporters of the Mackinac Center over the years; “Between 1998 and 2011, Mackinac received $560,000 from four DeVos foundations.”

In fact, the DeVos’ connections to the Mackinac Center run long and deep:

Who funds Mackinac? In tax records obtained by Kroll, two big names stand out: the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. Charles G. Koch is, of course, one half of the influential Koch Brothers. And it’s no surprise that the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity (AFP) had a major presence rallying support for the bills in Lansing this week.

But among Michigan power brokers, DeVos might well be the bigger name. Dick DeVos is the son of Richard DeVos, the founder of Amway. In 2006, after achieving success in the corporate world, DeVos the younger ran for governor of Michigan as a Republican. He lost—by a rather decisive 14%—to Democrat Jennifer Granholm.

But tax officials defended the dragnet, and the proceeds returned to the state’s coffers as a result of their investigations. “It’s partly about the integrity of the tax-collection system itself, but it is a revenue generator that collects money the school aid fund should have gotten,” said Larry Steckelberg, administrator of the Treasury Department’s property services division, which oversees the audits. “The most important thing is sending a signal that the integrity of the system is important and you should follow the rules.”

Since 2012, the audits have generated $85 million in potential revenue for the state school aid fund plus interest.

Ms. DeVos most likely won’t even notice the additional taxes she and her husband now have to pay, and doesn’t seem terribly concerned when it comes to accusations of financial improprieties:

“I have decided to stop taking offense,” she wrote, “at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.”

“People like us,” she added archly, “must surely be stopped.”

Well, yes and no, Betsy: we’d like to see you start paying your fair share of school taxes on your properties, instead of using your family’s enormous wealth to hire lawyers to find loopholes–legal and otherwise–to avoid doing so.

But we’d love to see your appointment as Secretary of Education stopped dead in its tracks.

And that’s probably the only education policy issue we agree on, Betsy: that “people like you must surely be stopped.”

  • Arcturus

    Like my grandpa always said, “people with 22,000 square foot houses know what’s best for you ‘n me, son.”

  • Don Handy

    No wonder the Dumpster picked her. They both have something in common: pure, unbridled greed.

  • It’s probably implied but not entirely clear in the piece that the property in Ada (the primary residence) is different from the other “vacation” property (in Holland on Lake Macatawa). It’s probably a common mistake experienced by people who own multiple compounds.

  • Note to self: What are the effects of AirBnB hosting and other rentals on “homesteading” and other private property tax policies?
    In some places, people rent out their homes during political conventions and other types of events, like filming on location.
    Almost forgot home office.

  • Russell Wilkinson Rph

    If government money went to private schools, would it not allow teaching religion and praying in those schools?

  • Stephen Paraski

    What is Amway? A seller of home based janitorial and cleaning supplier that sell in volume to homeowner that wants to open his own Amway branch out of his house, sell to family friends and neighbors and recruit a few to do the same. So “Business Tycoons like these, want it to be 1952 again and they will be “Industry” that will power American Economy like good old days. Oh and where is that Amway Sh*t made?

  • Karl Hutchense

    The DeVos family has been throwing their money and power around in Michigan for decades. They keep trying to ram school vouchers down our throats at every opportunity. So far, the voters have wisely rejected vouchers. She is going to ruin public education, especially for vulnerable special needs students. She has no experience for the job, and neither does Trump or any of his motley crew of cabinet picks.

  • Karl Hutchense

    Between the DeVos, Koch, and Trump camps, I’m sure there’s a long line of salivating rich, fat, bald, old white dudes with their hands out to open systems of charter schools. PUBLIC money that was meant to go towards educating kids will instead merely fatten up the bank accounts of these scumbuckets!

  • Kathy Cheer

    Anyone who wants to bring Christianity back into the schools, for me, always has little to no understanding of nor empathy with the teachings. Most importantly, separation of church and state was one of the reasons people immigrated to this country. For us out in California, a good many of us do not support charter schools nor a rich bitch as Sec’t of Education.

  • LazyDazy

    DeVos is unqualified to be Secretary of Education and needs to resign.