New York’s Senate easily approved a bill Wednesday that would allow three congressional committees to get access to President Donald Trump’s state tax returns, giving Democrats a potential end-run around the administration’s refusal to disclose the president’s federal returns.
The bill, which now goes to the state Assembly, doesn’t target Trump by name but would authorize state tax officials to release any state returns filed in New York if requested by the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation. Both chambers of the state Legislature are controlled by Democrats.
The vote fell along party lines, with 39 Democrats in the 63-seat Senate voting for the measure.
Republicans said Democrats should be focused on lowering the state’s high taxes and improving the lives of New Yorkers, not going after the president’s tax returns, a move GOP senators deemed intrusive and a violation of privacy rights.
“I find that extremely troubling. This is bad public policy,” said John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican who leads the Senate’s GOP minority.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who is one of the main sponsors, said Republicans were “misinformed” about the issue, pointing out that current federal law already allows congressional committees to request a person’s tax returns from the IRS.
“The power of the Congress to see your federal taxes already exists,” he said. “We’re not doing anything new here.”
An alternative proposal that wasn’t brought up for a vote would have limited the available returns to only those filed by select officeholders, including U.S. president and vice-president, U.S. senators, the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general or comptroller.
White House officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s home state is New York, where many of his business enterprises are based. Financial information in state returns is likely to mirror much of what is in his federal returns.
Federal law allows Congress to demand the president’s tax returns under certain circumstances, but on Monday Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to disclose Trump’s federal returns to the Democratic-controlled House, saying the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
That refusal set the stage for a possible legal battle. Any law passed in New York might also be destined for a court challenge.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump’s businesses lost more than $1 billion from 1985 to 1994, based on tax information the newspaper acquired.
Previous efforts to bring the legislation to a floor vote in the Senate were blocked by Republicans, who lost control of the chamber in the November elections.
The measure, which would amend state laws prohibiting private tax information from being released, isn’t scheduled for a vote yet in the Assembly, where more than 90 Democrats in the 150-seat chamber support the legislation.
The New York bill wouldn’t make Trump’s returns public, but Congress could potentially decide to do so.
“Americans have the right to know if the president is putting his business empire, or the interests of the public, first,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a group that supports the legislation.
Another Senate proposal that had been considered would have been limited to returns filed by select officeholders, including U.S. president and vice-president, U.S. senators, the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general or comptroller. It would have applied to filings related to personal income and other taxes and covered up to five years of returns before the person took office.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he supports legislation allowing the president’s tax returns to be made public, but only if it also applies to all state lawmakers and statewide elected officials in New York. Cuomo, now in his third term, recently released his federal and state tax returns, something he has done every year since becoming governor in 2011.
Ahead of the vote on the tax returns bill, the Senate approved legislation designed to ensure that a presidential pardon doesn’t cover similar criminal charges filed at the state level. The bill was crafted to eliminate an unintended loophole in the state’s double jeopardy law that prosecutors say could undermine New York’s ability to prosecute anyone pardoned by Trump.
The Assembly hasn’t scheduled a vote on that bill.