For the first time in more than a generation, a sitting president has refused to release his tax returns to the public, even as a candidate.
Former President Richard Nixon began the tradition for presidents to do so in 1969, and in 1973 Nixon told reporters, “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.”
Although it is not an official law for presidents to release their tax returns, the gesture has become a tradition. Now lawmakers in Albany are trying to make it a law for statewide elected public officials, including the president of the United States, to disclose their taxable income information.
“This bill recognizes that a personal interest in secrecy can be outweighed by the public’s right to know the tax and financial interests of its top government leaders,” said Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-Westchester, who is sponsoring the bill (S.5572-a/A.7462) with Sen. Brad Hoylman.
A similar bill was defeated in the Senate Elections Committee Monday, but that legislation only pertained to the president. It would have barred a presidential candidate from appearing on a ballot in New York State if tax information was not disclosed.
This bill is farther reaching and extends to some state officials.
Specifically it would require that all statewide elected officials provide their tax returns to the state Department of Taxation and Finance which would post the documents on its website and alert New Yorkers if their elected representatives did not comply. Those affected would be the governor, lieutenant governor, state comptroller, attorney general, U.S. senators, president and vice president.
Sensitive data such as Social Security numbers and their spouse’s information would be redacted before being made public.
“If lawmakers in Washington won’t force President Trump to release his returns, lawmakers in Albany should instead,” Hoylman said. “New Yorkers deserve to know if statewide officials – including Trump – pay their fair share of taxes.”
The bill would require the last five years of tax returns be posted on the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance’s website within 30 days of its enactment. For the future, the bill would require they be posted within 30 days after any elected official takes the oath of office.
“Public opinion polls show that over 80 percent of Americans want to see Donald Trump’s taxes,” Hoylman said. In the same poll, more than 64 percent of Republicans believed Trump’s tax returns should be released.
Trump has refused any request for his taxes, even though he stated he would release them after the audit was complete back in 2016. In a 2016 interview with NBC News, Trump said, “I will say this, and I’m very proud to say it…unlike everybody else, I try and pay as little tax as possible.”
During the announcement of the legislation, Hoylman and Buchwald said they have never released their own tax returns, but they would be more than willing to.
“Presidential candidates release their tax returns so the American people know they are focused on job number one — serving the country in a role with extraordinary power,” said Senator Daniel Squadron, D-Brooklyn.
Officials would be responsible for providing their tax information until they leave office.
“Donald Trump’s refusal speaks volumes about his values, but does not give the public or the press the most important information about his conflicts and incentives,” Squadron said.
During the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 2016 former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax,”
To which Trump replied, “That makes me smart.”
Currently the bill has 27 Assembly sponsors and 19 Senate sponsors. The bill would take effect immediately if passed.
“Trump broke over four decades worth of tradition by not releasing his returns, by thumbing his nose at the American people,” Hoylman said. “We want to reverse that, and we think we are in a unique position as New Yorkers to do so.”