ILLUSTRATION: Maryanna Hoggatt
Since declaring his candidacy for governor last December, Republican Chris Dudley has acknowledged that while playing for the Portland Trail Blazers from 1993 to 1997 he lived in Camas, Wash., to avoid Oregon taxes. Oregon has among the nation's highest personal income taxes. Washington has no income tax.
In an April KGW debate, Dudley said, "My accountant said, 'You would save some dollars if you lived over there.'"
Despite Dudley's efforts to defuse the issue, Democratic rival John Kitzhaber is not letting him off easy: Last week Kitzhaber's campaign released a TV commercial saying Dudley "has never managed anything, never tried to create jobs, and never shown much interest in Oregon because [he] lived in Washington to avoid paying Oregon taxes."
On Friday, the Democratic Party of Oregon hammered Dudley on the tax issue at a press event.
"His choice impacted the education and public safety of the Oregonians who paid to watch him play basketball," said Janet Van Wess, a Hillsboro teacher who spoke at the event.
The DPO also estimates that Dudley may have shielded millions in income by claiming Washington residency.
None of the criticism is new, given that Dudley has already admitted that he engaged in legal tax avoidance.
But an examination by WW reveals that there are significant questions about where Dudley lived from 1994 to 1998.
It's important to note that by living in Washington, as Dudley says he did from 1994 through 1998, he did not avoid paying Oregon income taxes on the more than $12 million in Trail Blazers salary during those years.
Oregon law requires that anybody with Oregon source income—in this case, Dudley's Blazers salary—pay income tax to Oregon regardless of where they live. (Dudley says he paid more than $400,000 to Oregon from 1994 to 1998.) But Oregon cannot tax out-of-state residents on other income such as dividends or capital gains earned elsewhere.
Given that Dudley had already played in the NBA for five seasons before he came to Portland, it's reasonable to assume he would have had some investment income and would have earned money by investing his Portland salary.
Determining residency is not a simple issue, however. "There really are no hard-and-fast rules," about what constitutes legal residency, says Rosemary Hardin, an Oregon Department of Revenue spokeswoman.
Hardin says her agency considers a number of factors, such as where the center of a taxpayer's "financial, social and family life" is; which state the taxpayer considers his permanent home and where he comes back to when he's been away. Other factors such as where a person votes, has a driver's license or registers his car also come into play.
A Portland tax lawyer who requested anonymity because of the issue's political sensitivity says people establishing residency for tax purposes must also consider where they shop, eat, seek medical care and get their hair cut. Establishing legal residence for tax purposes is more art than science.
"It's an abstract concept because it comes down to intent," the tax lawyer says. "You certainly can't just say you are a resident in Washington if your life revolves around Oregon."
Dudley purchased a home in Camas, Wash., in December 1994, which is the principal evidence of his claim to Washington residency.
But in many ways, Dudley's life did appear to "revolve" around Oregon. After the Blazers signed Dudley as a free agent in the fall of 1993, records show he obtained an Oregon driver's license in February 1994 and registered his car in Oregon.
In April of that year, he registered to vote in Oregon. In July 1994, he bought a home in Portland's Forest Heights neighborhood, for $437,000.
That year he also created the Dudley Foundation, which runs summer basketball camps for kids who are, like him, diabetic. The camp is certainly part of his "business, family and social life," one of the residency tests. But rather than establishing the foundation and camp in Washington, Dudley registered his foundation in California, where he grew up, and located the camp in Vernonia, Ore., where it remains.
All of those steps—getting a license, registering his car, registering to vote, buying a home and establishing a visible presence in a community through his foundation—are the kind of indicators tax authorities consider.
Dudley did make some effort to be a Washington resident.
In December 1994, he bought the home in Camas for $495,000. He obtained a Washington driver's license in February 1995 and registered his car in Washington in 1996.
But an Oregon DMV official says Dudley never surrendered his Oregon driver's license. Dudley also remained registered to vote in Oregon at least through March 1996, and never registered to vote in Clark County.
It is unclear how Dudley split his time between his two houses, but the Portland home, which he owned until May 1997, when he left the Blazers, was far closer to the Blazers practice facility than was the Camas home—13 miles versus 35 miles—and the Rose Garden Arena, which is seven miles vs. 23 miles. And in those days, the Blazers flew out of Hillsboro Airport—39 miles from the Camas house, but only 12 miles from the Portland house.
In a 2009 Oregon State Bar publication about residency and taxes, Neil Kimmelfield, secretary of the bar's Taxation Section, wrote: "Use of the property by the individual during the tax year, even for one day, may be sufficient for it to be considered a 'permanent place of abode.'"
Portland neighbors certainly remember seeing Dudley at his Forest Heights home. "He lived there for a period of time," says Jerry Marger, whose property abutted Dudley's. "I don't know how long, but he was around."
On Tuesday, Dudley's spokesman, LeRoy Coleman, insisted Dudley was a Washington resident from 1994 to 1998. "In 1993, when he came to the Blazers, he was unsure how long he would stay," Coleman says. "When he knew he would stay, he bought a house in Camas and became a resident there."
To the larger question of whether Dudley was actually living in Portland when he claimed to be living in Camas, Coleman says Dudley held onto his Portland House as "an investment."