ALBANY — Two Democratic lawmakers in New York are pushing ahead with their efforts to force the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns, announcing on Monday that they’ll introduce legislation to make it easier for the state to share tax returns with congressional committees.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-White Plains) have sponsored bills relating to Trump’s taxes over the past two years, but the proposals have never gone very far, even after Democrats took control of both houses in January.
But with House Democrats in Washington, D.C., pushing to obtain copies of the president’s returns, the lawmakers said it’s time to take advantage of New York’s unique role as the president’s home state.
“We’re not seeking the president’s cooperation,” Buchwald said. “We’re not looking to the IRS to turn over a copy of the returns. There’s a copy of President Trump’s New York state tax returns right here in New York state in an office anywhere, and the only thing that prevents that state income tax return from being made public is a state statute that we the Legislature have the power to amend.”
Buchwald has sponsored a bill since April 2017 that would change the statute. Under his legislation, the state Department of Taxation and Finance would have the power to release the returns of any New Yorker serving in statewide office or as president or vice president who have not made their returns public.
Hoylman first introduced his Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public Act in 2016. That measure, which would prohibit presidential candidates who have not released their returns from appearing on the state’s ballot, has spawned copycat measures in many other states.
And it has caused some concerns. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed his state’s version of the bill in 2017, questioning the constitutionality of having states regulate presidential elections with such detail. And it’s by no means guaranteed to work. “The president or any other candidate, especially one who already feels they’re unlikely to win New York’s electoral votes, could simply decide, ‘I’m not going to be on the New York ballot,’” Buchwald said.
But Hoylman introduced yet another proposal into the mix on Monday. It would allow New York to turn over state returns at the request of congressional committee chairs.
“This legislation would make the work of a federal committee a little easier,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) said in a release. “[I]f confronted with inability to receive the federal tax return, we can turn to New York State.”
Neither house of the Legislature has committed to acting on any of the measures. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has never weighed in on any of the proposals, although he included language in his budget proposal this year that was similar to what was in Hoylman’s bill — but it omitted presidential candidates from the disclosure mandate.
The senator, for his part, said he wasn’t picky about which bill makes its way into law.
“I don’t care how we get it done,” Hoylman said. “I want the route that is most politically feasible, which I’m certain is the one the Legislature will follow in our collective wisdom.”
State Republican Chairman Ed Cox characterized the proposals as bills of attainder, which is legalese for a law that singles out one person or group. Such measures are specifically prohibited in Section I of the U.S. Constitution.
“They’re going down the path of saying we want to be ethical, and the president’s got to release his taxes,” said Cox. “Well, wait a second — the public, when they elected him president of the United States, knew he wasn’t releasing his tax returns. They passed on that, so now they’re trying to really relitigate the election of 2016.”
Replying to these criticisms, Hoylman pointed to Cox’s familial ties to Richard Nixon.
“I would say to Mr. Cox to, if he could, speak to his former-father-in-law, about why he released his taxes and the importance behind that very important political tradition that we are now attempting to codify into state law,” he said.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine