ALBANY – A proposal with strong Democratic support but an uncertain future would force the release of President Donald Trump’s state income tax returns.
Assemb. David Buchwald and Sen. Brad Hoylman introduced the bill on Monday, with enough co-sponsors and supporters already to pass the Senate and Assembly. But even supporters expect a long court fight from Trump.
“The New York Truth Act” also would apply to other offices to which candidates are elected statewide: U.S. senator; governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller. For decades, statewide officials in New York provided their annual tax returns voluntarily for review by reporters, usually for one afternoon a year around the April 15 tax-filing deadline.
Hoylman introduced a separate bill Monday afternoon in the state Senate. It would authorize the state Taxation and Finance Department to release to specific congressional committee chairmen “any return” for “a specified and legitimate legislative purpose.” The bill didn’t immediately have an Assembly co-sponsor.
The efforts in Albany, coinciding with several efforts in Washington, have a shot, said Joshua Blank, professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law and an expert on taxpayer privacy rules.
"The big legal question will focus on whether the request serves a legitimate purpose and is not politically motivated. It could take weeks, months or even longer for courts to resolve this dispute," Blank said.
"One possible concern is that the IRS can stop cooperating with New York if New York requires its residents to include federal tax information on their state tax returns without offering confidentiality protections," Blank said. "However, here there is a strong case that the bill serves a legitimate purpose and only applies to select elected officials, not all New York taxpayers.”
“The American people deserve to know what the president is hiding,” said Buchwald (D-White Plains).
He notes that Trump, a Republican, had chosen not to release his taxes during the 2016 presidential campaign. Although Trump could have shown them publicly, he said he wouldn’t because he was under a “routine audit.” That postponement turned into a refusal to release his tax returns since Trump entered office.
“We must restore a principle of government that has been in existence for 40 years that Donald Trump broke,” Holyman said.
State Republican Chairman Ed Cox cited a recent Yale University journal article that explored the legal foundations that could force Trump to release his tax returns.
“This is a case of the partisans in the elite law schools urging the Democratic partisans in the state legislature to follow their ‘Trump derangement syndrome’ and go after the president of the United States to help the Democratic House committees to do what they could not directly by producing a bill that singled out one individual, the president of the United States, to take away his right to privacy,” Cox said in an interview.
“The people of America knew full well that candidate Trump did not release his taxes and they voted for him for president,” Cox said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo isn't endorsing the new proposal. He proposes a broader measure that would cover the president, all other federal officials, statewide elected officials, and state legsislators.
Democrats said the tax returns are needed to see if there are any conflicts of interest in Trump's role as president and his role as a developer.
“It is not partisan,” said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale). “We are just codifying what is our expectation.”
A typical state income tax form requires a taxpayer to provide income; details about business income or loss and capital gains or losses; taxes paid; charitable contributions and other financial data.
“Tax returns are a real window into what’s going on in a person’s mind,” said Buchwald, a former tax attorney.