New state law allows congressional access to Trump's New York tax returns

New state law allows congressional access to Trump's New York tax returns

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President Trump. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images file photo)

ALBANY – Congressional investigators will now have access to President Trump’s New York State income tax returns, under a new law that took effect Monday.

“It’s very much my hope that Congress will utilize this new tool, especially as they see their efforts continually frustrated," said Assemblyman David Buchwald, a Westchester County Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Assembly.

The White House did not comment, and both the U.S. Treasury Department and Trump's lawyer in the tax matter did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The legislation, called the New York TRUST Act, had originally called for any of three congressional committees in Washington – House Ways and Means, Senate Finance and the Joint Committee on Taxation – to obtain the state tax returns of any New Yorker.

An amendment, passed in the final hours of the 2019 session last month, made the earlier bill more narrow so that it now applies just to most elected officials – in federal, state and local offices – who have filed state tax returns with New York. Trump is a New York resident.

Buchwald said the amendment was passed because of concerns raised “about the breadth’’ of the original bill’s reach.

“At a more fundamental level, the concept is that elected officials should be held to a higher standard when it comes to transparency and accountability," Buchwald said in an interview Monday.

Buchwald and the bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, have sought to portray the measure as being driven by the Trump tax controversy but said they are not targeting the Republican president. Trump, along with the IRS, has rejected requests by Democratic members of Congress to obtain the president’s tax returns.

The Buchwald and Hoylman bill was sent to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo early this morning and was signed into law several hours later.

Hoylman said the measure “helps restore the fundamental democratic principle that no one person – no matter what office they might hold – is above the law."

“As the home state of Donald Trump, New York has a special role to play to help avoid a constitutional crisis between the President and Congress in their effort to obtain his tax returns. But this legislation is bigger than one person or one president. Moving forward, this new law helps Congress perform one of its most important responsibilities: oversight of the Office of the President."

Whether Congress still wants the New York returns of the president remains uncertain. The House of Representatives last week sued the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department in the latest bid to get access to the president’s federal tax returns.

"This is purely political. This is theater. This is nothing more than attempt by this governor to attack our president,'' said Nick Langworthy, the chairman of the state Republican Party.

Langworthy said the bill may permit Congress to obtain state tax forms of other state and local officials, but the real target is just one person: Trump. "This is aimed directly at the president. ... It's an attempt to settle political scores," he said.

The New York legislation has limits on what can be turned over to Congress. First, a written request must be made to the state tax commissioner that certifies the state tax returns of someone is required “for a specific and legitimate legislative purpose."

Second, the state can redact certain “highly personal” and sensitive information, such as bank account numbers.

Third, according to a review of the measure conducted earlier this session by Richard Pomp, a law professor and tax code expert at the University of Connecticut, the state will be able to provide only state tax returns and reports to Congress. Pomp told The Buffalo News that the state cannot furnish Congress with, in this case, federal filings and reports – containing far more details than state returns – that Trump filed each year with New York State.

Buchwald noted today how Trump’s returns have been audited by the IRS in the past. He said federal law requires any amendments made to a person’s federal returns as a result of an audit must also be submitted to state tax offices where they file returns. “So those New York State adjustments would shed light on the potential outcome of prior federal audits" of the president, Buchwald said.

The measure generated considerable controversy when the two houses took up the initial bill in May. A number of lawmakers were outraged that any New Yorkers’ tax returns would be subject to being turned over to Congress. Others expressed slippery-slope concerns that could permit Congress to subject people to fishing expedition investigations.

The amendments also signed into law Monday limited whose New York returns can be obtained by Congress. The new law permits Congress to request state tax returns, if any were filed in New York State, of:

• The president, vice president, member of Congress or high-level people in a presidential administration.

• Statewide elected officials in New York, certain high-level state employees, a political party chairperson, certain local government officials, members of the state Legislature and judges.

“Since these congressional committees are supposed to have access to every American’s federal tax return, I hope that the congressional effort to uphold that law is successful as promptly as possible," Buchwald said.

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