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Trump should end the subterfuge and give voters access to tax returns

One of the ways in which Americans can truly examine a presidential candidate is through the candidate’s tax returns, which is why many more people should be upset over Donald J. Trump’s refusal to release his tax filings.

This is not a matter of busybodies wanting to be nosy. It is about a level of transparency anyone who wants to hold the highest office in the nation should embrace and encourage. The failure of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to release his tax returns breaks 40 years of political precedent, according to Joseph J. Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project.

It is no surprise that Hillary Clinton has latched onto Trump’s lack of transparency as a campaign issue. In response, Trump is accusing her of desperation and wanting to deflect attention from her own controversy, involving the use of a private email server.

Clinton (whose returns for the past 33 years have been available to the public) answered, “We’ll get to that” to the man at her recent New Jersey rally who called out, “What about his tax returns?” The same could be said about her email troubles, even though her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, dismissed that controversy with a virtual wave of the hand months ago. It shouldn’t be that easy.

Nor should it be a smooth ride out of the tax return debate for multibillionaire Trump. Or, is he a multibillionaire? This is just one of many questions that could be answered, at least indirectly, by publicly disclosing the returns. There are already howls from the left and the right, wondering what he has to hide.

Trump told the Associated Press that he has no obligation to release his tax returns and will not do so before November. That is, unless an ongoing audit of his finances is completed before Election Day. It doesn’t explain why he won’t release tax returns from 2002 to 2008. Richard Nixon released his taxes in the midst of an audit. Besides, Trump said, “There’s nothing to learn from them.” And he added that he does not believe voters are interested.

Many, including this page, would disagree.

As has been widely noted, Trump criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during his 2012 run for being reluctant to release his tax returns. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and Romney is the one urging Trump to disclose his filings.

While tax returns reveal a person’s annual income, net worth is not explicitly disclosed. The Washington Post said the returns would give people an understanding of a person’s cash flow. If Trump is as rich as he says he is, the returns should quiet suggestions to the contrary.

Perhaps more important, as the Post noted, “voters would understand the sources of a person’s income.” That could be pertinent given Trump’s drumbeat criticism of Clinton’s earnings from speeches on Wall Street.

The returns will also disclose how much Trump gives to charity, which could comfort or infuriate voters, depending. And it would reveal how aggressive Trump has been in using credits and deductions to reduce his taxes.

Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.” There’s nothing wrong with that; no one should have to pay more than legally required. But the returns would show how aggressive he’s been in reducing his tax rate. His official tax plan involves a top tax rate of 25 percent, versus the highest tax bracket today of 39.6 percent.

Trump should stick to precedent and release his tax returns. The longer he waits, the more it looks as though he is trying to hide a bombshell. Let the voters get a good, long look at the filings and judge for themselves if there is something to be interested in.