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NY lawmakers seek backdoor means to release Trump's taxes

May 9, 2019
Originally published on May 2, 2019 8:13 pm

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 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 Sen. 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 as to 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,” Hoylman said. “I think we have a responsibility to do so as the state that is the home state of President Trump and many of his businesses.”

Hoylman said 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 Rep. 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 returns under the proposal, the public would not necessarily see them. It would be up to requesting committees whether they wanted to share the returns publicly.

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

Gov. 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 said 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 said 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 said he's not ruling it in or out at this point.

The state Senate plans to vote soon on the measure.

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