New York Can Release Trump’s Tax Returns
For months, several ethics groups have filed lawsuits demanding Donald Trump to release his tax returns, and Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to force the president to do so. But These efforts have proven fruitless thus far.
On Capitol Hill, GOP leaders are blocking a bipartisan bill that would make President Trump’s returns publicly available, even though 64 percent of self-identified Republicans say the president should release his tax filings.
In Trenton, New Jersey state lawmakers have passed a bill that would require presidential candidates to release their returns as a condition for their names appearing on the state’s 2020 ballot, but Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill this week.
However, the state of New York has the power to do it.
According to Politico Magazine, Lawmakers in Albany have the ability to execute the immediate disclosure of the president’s tax filings—and it arises out of New York’s unique position as the sitting president’s home state.
The idea is a simple one: Each year, Trump files federal income tax returns with the IRS and a similar resident income tax return with New York. Trump’s state returns disclose how much income he earns from in-state and out-of-state sources and what deductions he claims for charitable contributions and various other expenses. If Trump uses phantom losses to zero out his federal income tax liability, he almost certainly does the same for state tax purposes.
Trump’s state returns also will reveal how much he pays in taxes not only to New York state, but also to New York City—which itself will spend somewhere in the range of $60 million a year protecting the Trump family during his presidency.
And if New York wants to publish President Trump’s state tax returns, it can.
As Politico states:
On April 26, State Assemblyman David Buchwald and State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation to release state tax returns filed by the president and certain other elected officials. Specifically, the law would require the state tax authority to post on its website the last five years of returns filed by the president and vice president, the state’s two U.S. senators, as well as the governor, lieutenant governor, state comptroller and state attorney general. The state tax authority would continue to post returns filed by those individuals until they leave office.
Could president Trump challenge the law on constitutional grounds? Yes, but he would be unlikely to succeed.
Trump might argue that the law is a “bill of attainder”—a legislative act that unconstitutionally singles out a specific person or group of persons for punishment. But that argument would fail for three reasons.
First, the New York bill does not single out President Trump. It would apply to anyone who serves in national or statewide elected office now or in the future. Second, the bill does not inflict punishment. It simply forces elected officials to do what past presidents have done on their own volition for most of the last half-century. And third, the Supreme Court has said that a law is not a bill of attainder if it “reasonably can be said to further nonpunitive legislative purposes.”
Not only is the New York bill constitutionally sound, it’s also sound policy. Disclosure of presidential tax returns gives ordinary taxpayers greater confidence that their elected leaders are paying taxes too. It also dispels the pernicious notion that “only the little people pay taxes,” a notion that undermines tax morale and tax compliance where it takes root.
The decades-old norm of presidential tax transparency is important both to our tax system and our political system. New York lawmakers can—and should—ensure that the norm does not die with President Trump.
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