On Monday, The Senate Elections Committee voted 5-4 against a bill proposed by Democrats that would require presidential candidates on the New York State ballot to release their tax returns for the five previous years. The bill is aimed at President Donald Trump who has refused to release his returns. The committee was considering whether to advance the bill, possibly to a vote. The Assembly has yet to consider the bill.
“We contend that, what has been full disclosure in the past, should continue,” Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat representing parts of Albany, Bethlehem and Guilderland told The Alt, referring to the fact that presidential candidates since Richard Nixon have released their tax returns.
Fahy is the Assembly sponsor of the Tax Returns Made Uniformly Public Act or the T.R.U.M.P. Act.
The T.R.U.M.P. Act was introduced in December of 2016 and is the brainchild of State Senator Brad Hoylman a Democrat from Manhattan. If signed into law, the legislation would require presidential candidates on the New York State ballot in 2020 to release their tax returns from the five previous years. But state lawmakers around the nation are hoping it has another effect too—to coerce Trump into releasing his returns now.
Hoylman’s legislation has gained considerable traction around the nation, with similar legislation being introduced in 28 other states. Most versions reside under the same T.R.U.M.P. acronym. Fahy, who carries the bill said, “We’re not trying to disguise that, we have gone over 40 years without this problem,” referring to Trump’s refusal to release his returns.
Nixon was the first president to release his tax returns and it’s been commonplace for presidential candidates to make their returns public for the previous decades. Part of the introduction of this legislation is to pressure Trump into making his returns public, Fahy said.
The primary issue for the bill’s sponsors is transparency, Senator Holyman said, “It suggests to me that there is something that they are trying to hide.” But Hoylman’s suspicions of Trump do not end there. He believes that the sitting president “was not fully vetted,” before he assumed the Oval Office.
Some may regard the release of Trump’s tax returns as a moot point, but just as the administration is beginning to propose tax legislation, legislators say it is imperative that the public are assured that there are no conflicts of interest. “I think it’s a tremendous failure if he [Trump] can’t be candid with the American people,” Hoylman said. In Trump’s refusal to release any of his returns, he’s halting the tax reform process.
“How can we talk about serious tax reform without transparency?” Fahy asked.
But Trump appears set on forging ahead with his promised tax cuts that he, in part, built his campaign on. Last week Trump unveiled a proposal to cut tax rates on ‘pass-through businesses’ (which make up most US businesses, including Trump’s own real estate businesses)–from 39.6 percent to just 15 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. The new tax reforms will harbor the largest tax cuts proposed in US history.
Critics of the T.R.U.M.P. Act have placed into question its constitutional legality and whether it could stand in the court or not. Hoylman told The Alt, in regards to its legality, that the bill has been thoroughly vetted by law scholars including a professor of constitutional law at Harvard—Lawrence Tribe.
Under the constitution, a law cannot target any single person, that is, a law cannot be solely applicable to any single actor. But what the new legislation can do is codify a law that requires anyone who intends to run on the NYS ballot as a presidential candidate, to disclose their previous tax returns. While the bill would do little but place additional weight on the shoulders of the sitting president, it would require Trump to release his returns in 2020, when running for re-election. The Trump administration has raised $30 million for a reelection campaign.
Most state lawmakers have staunchly maintained that the request for the disclosure of Trump’s returns is fair and has merit. However, Trump insists that the American people don’t care if he discloses his tax returns or not. The recent demonstrations from across the nation on tax day seem to suggest otherwise. For Hoylman and other like-minded lawmakers across the country, it’s the what-ifs that are a cause for concern.
“That’s the question: the unknown. There’s not a lot here to inspire confidence,” said Hoylman.
Watch Senate Elections Committee vote here: