Several New York state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that they say would force President Donald Trump to make his state tax returns public.
Trump broke with a more than 40-year tradition of presidential candidates and presidents voluntarily releasing their tax returns. Trump has said he can’t release his returns because he is under audit.
In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon began the practice of releasing the tax filings, even though Nixon himself was under federal audit at the time. Since then, every president has voluntarily released his tax returns.
Democrats in the New York State Legislature say they’d like to make that practice mandatory, not voluntary, and believe they have the power to do it.
Assemblyman David Buchwald, who is also a tax attorney, said the bill also covers both U.S. senators and statewide elected officials including the governor, state comptroller and state attorney general, all of whom routinely make their tax returns available.
“This would be a good piece of legislation regardless of who is president,” said Buchwald, a Democrat from Mount Kisco.
But, of course, the focus is on Trump, and Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, said it fills a gap in the U.S. Constitution regarding presidents and their business dealings.
“The bottom line is, presidents are not subject to the same conflict-of-interest laws as most federal officials,” Hoylman said. “That is why it is so important that we know what President Trump is hiding in his tax returns.”
The bill would not require Trump to release his federal tax returns. New York does not have the power to do that. But state tax filings also include attachments for capital gains taxes and pass-throughs for income from business partnerships.
Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy of Albany sponsored a bill that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to qualify for the New York ballot, starting in the 2020 elections.
Fahy said it’s especially important to know about the former real estate developer and reality TV star’s business dealings, as the president issues a tax-cutting proposal to Congress.
“He could benefit to the tune of millions and millions of dollars,” said Fahy, who likened the situation to a “bad novel.”
The measures are expected to come to the floor for a vote in the Assembly in the next month, where it could likely pass. The bigger obstacle is the state Senate. It has Democratic sponsors, but Democrats are in the minority there. The Senate is ruled by a coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats.
Hoylman is hopeful that votes will materialize in the Senate because of a “groundswell” of public support. He cited rallies held across the country on April 15 — tax day — asking Trump to release his returns, and polls showing 80 percent of the public want the tax returns released, including 64 percent of Republicans.
“I think this is drawing a line in the sand,” Hoylman said. “Are you for transparency? Or are we going to remain in the dark?”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference said members support the measure and also want to see Trump’s tax returns.
“Our country deserves to know about the business dealings of our president,” said IDC spokeswoman Candace Giove.
A statement from the independent Democrats’ governing partners, the Senate Republicans, was not as encouraging.
A spokesman for the GOP said they are “always happy to have a serious discussion about what constitutes sound public policy for the state of New York.” But spokesman Scott Reif said the bills sound like “a PR stunt.”