New York Passes Bill Giving Congress a Way to Get Trump’s State Tax Returns – The New York Times

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ALBANY — New York State lawmakers on Wednesday gave their final approval to a bill that would clear a path for Congress to obtain President Trump’s state tax returns, injecting another element into a tortuous battle over the president’s refusal to release his taxes.

The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and regular critic of Mr. Trump’s policies and behavior, will authorize state tax officials to release the president’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees.

The returns — filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters — would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns, though it remained unclear whether those congressional committees would use such new power in their investigations.

The Legislature’s actions put the state in a bit of uncharted legal territory; Mr. Trump has said that he is ready to take the fight over his federal tax returns to the Supreme Court, and it seems likely that he would seek to contest New York’s maneuver.

Republicans have called the effort in Albany a “bill of attainder” — an unconstitutional piece of legislation aimed at a single person or group — while also decrying the potential invasion of privacy, suggesting that federal officials would conduct improper “fishing expeditions.”

Still, for Democrats for whom the president’s steadfast refusal to release his returns has been a constant frustration, the legislative action was being cast as both a victory for states’ rights and the often unsung power of a state legislature.

“It’s a matter of New York’s prerogative,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, who sponsored the bill in his chamber. “We have a unique responsibility and role in this constitutional standoff.”

Once signed into law by Mr. Cuomo, the legislation would require the commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance to release returns to the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation for any “specified and legitimate legislative purpose.” Such a request would be have to be made it writing, and only after a request for federal returns has been made to the Treasury Department.

In Washington, the House Ways and Means Committee has unsuccessfully sought six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns. The Treasury Department said last week that it would not honor a congressional subpoena to hand over the president’s returns, saying the request lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose,” though a leaked draft memorandum from the I.R.S. suggested that such logic was flawed.

On Wednesday, the Ways and Means Committee said it was focused on pursuing Mr. Trump’s federal tax information, regardless of New York’s action and the potential for getting the president’s state returns.

“Our request to the Internal Revenue Service was in furtherance of an investigation into the mandatory presidential audit program at the I.R.S.,” said Daniel Rubin, a spokesman for the committee, which is led by Representative Richard E. Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat. “State returns would not help us evaluate this program.”

At the same time, Steven M. Rosenthal, a tax lawyer and senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said he would not be surprised if the president fought the state law, though he believed it passed legal muster.

“Of course, the Legislature was motivated by Donald Trump’s current refusals,” Mr. Rosenthal said, but added that he thought the bill was written broadly enough to avoid the “bill of attainder” accusation.

That opinion was echoed by Brian Galle, a law professor at Georgetown University Law School, who said that “bills of attainder have been interpreted really narrowly by the courts,” and noted that legislation often describes targeted industries or municipalities in vague terms. (In New York, for instance, state bills aimed at New York City are typically described as those affecting “a city with a population of one million or more,” as New York is the only such city in the state.)

“The bill doesn’t say you can release Donald Trump’s, and only Donald Trump’s, tax returns,” Mr. Galle said.

Lawmakers took steps to safeguard the bill from legal challenges, amending the wording so that it covered an array of public officials, federal executive branch employees and political party leaders.

The passage of the state tax bill is just the latest action in Albany directed at Mr. Trump, who is deeply unpopular in his home state.

On Tuesday, the Assembly passed a bill that would allow state prosecutors to pursue state charges against any person granted a presidential pardon on similar federal charges, undoing a loophole in the face of concern about Mr. Trump abusing his pardon power to indemnify former associates. The Senate had previously passed the bill to close the so-called double jeopardy loophole, and it, too, has Mr. Cuomo’s support.

Mr. Hoylman said he envisioned the state tax bill as a way to assist congressional oversight at a time of “White House stonewalling.” Indeed, when the bill was first introduced in early April, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it would make the work of federal committee “a little easier to see the complete picture.”

His office reiterated that support on Wednesday, calling the state’s action an act “for transparency.”

“It’s something we can give Chairman Neal if he decides to exercise it,” Rob Gottheim, a district director for Mr. Nadler, said of the Ways and Means Committee leader.

During his campaign for president in 2016, Mr. Trump broke precedent — and set his own — by refusing to release his tax returns, citing what he said were pending federal audits. There is no law preventing taxpayers from releasing their returns under such circumstances.

David Buchwald, the Assembly sponsor of the state tax bill and a tax lawyer by trade, said that he was confident the state was within its rights to allow federal access to such records, noting that state tax officials commonly share information with the I.R.S. and other states.

“There are no valid constitutional arguments against this legislation,” Mr. Buchwald said on Wednesday. “The state has the authority over the statutes when it shares tax return information.” He noted that local property tax information, for instance, was available to the public.

Mr. Galle seconded this, saying “there is no constitutional right to have privacy in your tax returns,” though federal law offers some protections of such information, as well as exceptions.

While New York is a profoundly blue state, the support was not unanimous in the Democratic-led Assembly. Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Democrat, voted no, saying the bill troubled him.

“We are traveling down a path we should not be traveling down,” Mr. Benedetto said, calling the bill political in nature and meant to “get a few people.”

On Wednesday, the state’s top Republican in the Senate, John J. Flanagan, was also outraged that Democrats had “wasted weeks on their singular obsession with getting a peek at President Trump’s taxes,” while other issues languished.

“It’s time for Democrats in Albany to stop seeking cheap headlines,” Mr. Flanagan said.