WASHINGTON -- The White House, taking the unusual step of rebutting a comic strip, yesterday dismissed as "phony baloney" assertions that President Bush lists Texas as his official residence to avoid paying state income taxes.
The satirical comic strip "Doonesbury" mocked Mr. Bush on Sunday for claiming a Houston hotel room as his home. Cartoon character Zonker Harris, dressed in cowboy garb, invited readers to claim they were Texans to avoid paying a state income tax.
Asked about the criticism yesterday, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the president is justified in claiming a tax-free residency in Texas, although he also has a home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
"That's perfectly plausible and legitimate under Texas law," Mr. Fitzwater said. He noted that Mr. Bush, a former oilman, was a congressman from Houston in the late 1960s and spent "all of his business life" in Texas before he moved to Washington to enter public service.
"He has many ties there," Mr. Fitzwater said. "And he wanted to maintain a voting residence there and maintain many of his other ties to Texas."
Mr. Fitzwater said "the question of whether or not he has a house there is irrelevant. . . . If you owned South Fork, you wouldn't pay any [state] income taxes."
The press spokesman said anybody could establish a Texas residence by living in a hotel room. Asked if the president would encourage the practice, Mr. Fitzwater replied, "Certainly, the more Texans, the better. We love Texans."
Meanwhile in Texas, Comptroller John Sharp's office was braced for an avalanche of mail later this week from "Doonesbury" readers who appreciated the gag -- and some who took the comic strip seriously.
Sharp spokesman Andy Welch said about two dozen people telephoned yesterday, including some who were interested in seeking Texas residency status so they could escape paying state income taxes elsewhere.
The "Doonesbury" strip included a mail-in, tongue-in-cheek application for residency addressed to Mr. Sharp, Texas' top tax collector. Mr. Sharp, a Democrat, is ready to respond in kind with humorous certificates of Texas residency.
The certificate says that if another state's tax official won't exempt the honorary Texan from taxes, Mr. Sharp will send a Texas voter registration form, a real estate section to assist in selecting a piece of Texas real estate to buy, and, if all else fails, an invitation to move to Texas.
"In the still further event that none of these good-faith efforts proves adequate to convince your tax officials that you deserve a break, we invite you to pack your bags, call the movers, kiss Aunt Tillie goodbye and move on down here to God's own country where the grass grows tall and the wind blows free and anyone who says 'income tax' gets his mouth washed out with soap," Mr. Sharp's certificate reads.
Not printed at state expense, the certificates also come with a caveat: "The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts is not responsible for any penalties, interest or tax evasion prison terms incurred as a result of an effort to use this certificate to reduce your income tax liability in the state or federal district in which you currently reside. In other words, you're on your own!"