Posted: April 15, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

April 15 is not Colin Bonini's favorite time of the year. Not only is he a Republican who would be hard-pressed to state a preference between taxes and the pharoahs, he once found himself caught in IRS hell.

Bonini, a state senator for 16 years, is running for treasurer. His motto is "It's Your Money!"

The office is responsible for keeping track of the tax money Delaware collects, so any personal lapses in taxes could not be good for an aspiring treasurer. It is bound to come up.

The individual consequences are bad enough. People can wind up with liens against their houses, as Bonini did.

"Just talking about it, I have a little knot in my stomach," he said.

Bonini's tax smackdown happened in 2003. He worked in sales in the 1990s for T&M Associates, an engineering firm based in Middletown, N.J., until it pulled out of Delaware. T&M later returned in 2000 and brought Bonini back, but as a contract worker, responsible for his own tax withholdings.

It was a very good year for Bonini. Not only did he have his T&M pay, he did work for Wesley College in Dover and collected his Senate salary for a total of about $125,000. "I'm nowhere near that nowadays," he said.

Bonini paid estimated quarterly taxes but not enough. The IRS later notified him he owed $18,803 in back taxes.

"As you can imagine, it was very upsetting. I said, no way," he said.

Bonini argued with the IRS. He kept arguing until the IRS slapped a lien on his home, then on South Shore Drive in Dover, in March 2003 for the back taxes plus penalties and interest that brought the amount to $28,386.

Bonini called Mark Dunkle, his lawyer who is a Democrat.

"He said two things -- you should have called me before, and just pay them. You can pay me a lot of money to fight them, but you're a state senator. Just pay them," Bonini said.

Bonini wrote the check for the back taxes. A reduced amount of penalties and interest -- he cannot remember exactly how much -- was taken out of his next tax refund. The lien was removed after a month in April 2003.

Since then, Bonini has been re-elected twice without any questions about the lien, which is a public record. He is in the middle of a four-year Senate term now and does not have to resign to run. His Democratic opponent will be determined by a primary between Velda Jones-Potter, the incumbent appointed by Gov. Jack Markell to replace himself, and Chip Flowers, a lawyer.

Bonini rejects the proposition his candidacy is compromised. To the contrary.

"There is no question in my mind the experience made me a better state senator, and I guarantee it will make me a better treasurer, because it gave me a sense of how powerless a person feels facing the government. The power to tax and place liens was really brought home to me," he said.

Not to mention what it still could do to a campaign.