N.Y. passes legislation that could put Trump's tax returns in Congress's hands

New York lawmakers gave final passage to legislation Wednesday that would allow U.S. President Donald Trump’s state tax returns to be released to congressional committees that have, so far, been barred from getting the president’s federal filings.

The Democrat-led state senate and assembly both approved the measures Wednesday, sending them to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. A spokesperson has said the governor supports the principle behind the legislation but will review the bill carefully before deciding whether to sign it.

The legislation doesn’t target Trump by name, but it would allow the leaders of the U.S. House ways and means committee, the Senate finance committee or the joint committee on taxation to get access to any New York state tax returns filed by elected officials and top appointed officials. The legislation would apply to personal income tax returns, as well as business taxes paid in New York.

An earlier version of the proposal passed the state senate two weeks ago and would have allowed congressional committees to get any New Yorker’s tax returns, regardless of whether they held public office. However, lawmakers later narrowed the legislation to address concerns that it went too far, prompting the state senate to hold a second vote on the new language Wednesday.

Republicans oppose bill

New York Republicans have railed against the bill. State senate Republican Leader John Flanagan called the legislation “troubling” and “bad public policy.”

“This bill is nothing more than political showmanship, and we all know it,” said assemblyman Andy Goodell, who represents a mostly rural western New York district.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell spoke against the bill on Wednesday at the state capitol in Albany, N.Y. Republicans have railed against the legislation, with the state senate Republican leader describing it as ‘bad public policy.’ (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

Republicans also blasted Democrats for going after the president instead of focusing on challenges closer to home.

“The fact that we’re talking about taxes in this house is ironic because we’re not talking about the taxes that New Yorkers pay, which are the highest in the nation,” said Sen. Rob Ortt, from Buffalo area.

‘Nobody is above the law’

But the proposals’ Democratic sponsors — Sen. Brad Hoylman, of Manhattan, and assemblyman David Buchwald, of Westchester County — said the legislation promotes government transparency at a time when Americans need to know whether their elected leaders are putting the public’s interest first.

“We are affirming Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government and the sacred constitutional principle that nobody is above the law, not even the highest elected official in the land,” Hoylman said.

The proposed changes to state law were made amid a battle going on in Washington over Trump’s federal tax returns.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he wouldn’t comply with a congressional subpoena seeking six years of Trump’s tax returns, in part because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.” U.S. Rep. for Massachusetts Richard Neal, chairman of the House ways and means committee, has threatened to go to court to get the administration to comply.

New York state assemblyman David Buchwald speaks Wednesday in favour of legislation authorizing state tax officials to release, if requested, individual New York state tax returns to Congress. (Hans Pennink/Associated Press)

Democrats are seeking six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns to aid a committee investigation into whether the IRS is doing its job properly to audit a sitting president and whether the law governing such audits needs to be strengthened.

With New York being Trump’s home state and the headquarters of many of his business enterprises, the legislation could give Democrats access to the president’s state tax returns at a time when the White House and Democrats who control the House continue to wrangle over the president’s federal tax returns.

Much of the information on Trump’s state returns would mirror the information included on a federal return, giving the Democrats a potential end run around the IRS if they wished to take it.

No public access to returns

If Congress does request and obtain Trump’s state tax returns, that doesn’t mean the public gets to see them. Under federal law, the confidential information in the returns is supposed to be for the committee’s eyes only.

The New York bills have no time limitation on the tax filings that could be shared with Congress. They require that the returns be requested “for a specified and legitimate legislative purpose,” wording that could ostensibly give state officials the ability to refuse some requests they felt were primarily political in nature.

The New York bills would become law immediately upon being signed by Cuomo, though it could be delayed by a court challenge.

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