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New York Lawmakers Seek Backdoor Means To Release Trump's Taxes

Susan Walsh
President Donald Trump listens during a discussion at Nuss Truck and Equipment in Burnsville, Minn., April 15, during an event to tout the 2017 tax law.

A bill that would create a backdoor method to release President Donald Trump’s taxes is moving through the State Senate and could be voted on as early as next week.

Several congressional committees have been seeking President Trump’s tax returns, in connection with a number of investigations. The committees say they have the legal right to see the documents. But Trump has refused to release them, saying he is in the process of being audited. And his treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has declined to hand over the papers to the committees, setting up a potential court fight.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat, is the sponsor of a bill that would create an alternative means for the Democratic Congressional Committees to see the President’s tax returns.

“A lot of New Yorkers, and frankly, Americans have questions about what he’s hiding,” Hoylman said.

New York lawmakers don’t have authority over federal taxes, but they do have influence over state tax policy. The bill would authorize the state’s Department of Taxation to release the President’s tax returns if they are requested by leaders of three congressional committees, and if there is a legitimate purpose to do so.

“I think we are providing an opportunity for Congress to perform its very important oversight responsibilities,” said Hoylman. “I think we have a responsibility to do so as the state that is the home state for President Trump and many of his businesses.”

Hoylman says the information in the state tax filings could likely mirror the President’s federal tax filings.

“We don’t know for certain,” he said. “But we do know that there is a lot of information.”

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Joint (House and Senate) Committee on Taxation are seeking the tax returns.

Even though the congressional committee could get the tax returns under the proposal, the public would not necessarily see them. It would be up to requesting committees whether they wanted to share the tax returns publicly.   

The bill was approved by a key Senate committee in late April, and Hoylman says it has 33 co-sponsors, including the Senate Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Thirty-two votes are needed for passage.

Governor Andrew Cuomo initially had some reservations about what he said could be the politicization of the tax filing process in New York. But he is now on board, as long as the bill applies to all politicians, regardless of the party or elected office that they hold. Cuomo spoke on Albany public radio station WAMC on April 9.

“You know if we have to pass a law that is clearly designed to help a Democratic Congress access Donald Trump’s tax returns it will be in the courts for years because this really does raise serious constitutional questions,” Cuomo said. “So the broader you make it the better.”

Cuomo says he wants everyone who runs for public office in New York to be required to release their tax returns.

The bill has not yet advanced in the Assembly, though it has a majority party sponsor, Assemblyman David Buchwald, and the backing of over 90 Democrats in the 150-member house.

Speaker Carl Heastie says he does not want to comment on the bill until his Democratic members discuss it in their private weekly meetings.

“On bills like this we like to have a conversation internally to see if this is where members really want to go,” Heastie said.

But he says he's not ruling it in or out at this point.

The state Senate plans to vote soon on the measure.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.