The New York State Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would allow President Trump’s state tax returns to be turned over to congressional committees, a move that could pave the way for House Democrats to obtain the president’s closely guarded financial records.
The bill must still be approved by the State Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D-N.Y.), but Cuomo has expressed support for the measure and Democrats have a majority in the legislature’s lower chamber.
The legislation comes after the New York Times published a report, based on data from 10 years of Trump’s federal tax returns, showing he took more than $1 billion in losses and lost more money than almost every other taxpayer in America from 1985 to 1994.
House Democrats have sought more recent records, from 2013 to 2018, citing the need to oversee how the Internal Revenue Service audits the president’s tax returns. On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin officially denied House lawmakers’ request for Trump’s tax returns.
“One period of taxes that has been leaked shows many inconsistencies,” said Brad Hoylman, the Democratic state senator who is spearheading the legislation. “A lot of Americans want to know what else there is.”
Trump refused to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign, breaking decades of precedent.
New York’s legislation would not give House Democrats access to the six years of federal tax returns sought by House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.). But the state returns could provide an unprecedented look into Trump’s New York business dealings, his income, and a range of other personal financial information, according to legal experts.
“The New York state tax returns likely contain information that is similar to what is in the federal returns,” said Harry Sandick, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, noting his business losses and income likely would be similar at the federal and state levels.
The Trump administration has rejected Democrats’ requests for the president’s tax returns as violations of taxpayer privacy, with congressional Republicans echoing similar concerns. Leading Republicans in New York state have similarly ridiculed Hoylman’s bill as a partisan attempt to embarrass the president.
In his letter earlier this week, Mnuchin said of House Democrats’ request for Trump’s records, “in reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, and . . . the Department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”
Under the legislation, the state tax returns can only be released if requested by any of three committees: The House Ways and Means Committee; the Senate Finance Committee; or the Joint Committee on Taxation. It likely would not contain any information about IRS audits into Trump’s tax returns, a key part of Neal’s request, as those would not be filed in the state returns.
Federal law limits the kind of federal tax information that states are permitted to disclose, which could translate into criminal penalties if New York state’s Department of Taxation and Finance does not adhere to statute should Neal request Trump’s returns.
“They’re bound by the confidentiality agreement that applies to all federal tax information,” said George Yin, a tax expert at the University of Virginia who has briefed congressional officials on Trump’s returns. “They have to be very, very careful in what they’re doing.”
Hoylman, the state senator, said he had consulted extensively with counsel about his legislation and was confident of its legality.
Some legal experts have speculated that the Trump administration or Trump’s attorneys could try getting a federal court to prevent New York state from turning over the president’s records. But others say a court challenge is unlikely to prevent the congressional bodies from obtaining the state returns.
“The claim that New York can’t give Trump’s returns to Ways and Means is really, really, really weak,” said Daniel Hemel, a professor at the University of Chicago. “New York has a really good argument that it’s just mirroring Congress’s own choice about confidentiality.”
The Treasury Department did not return a request for comment about the New York legislation. Trump’s attorneys also did not return requests for comment.