Albany: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed a bill that would allow certain members of Congress to access President Donald Trump’s New York state tax returns.
The bill, which Cuomo had been expected to OK, requires New York officials to release tax returns of public officials that have been requested by “congressional tax-related committees” that have cited “specified and legitimate legislative purpose” in seeking them.
“This bill gives Congress the ability to fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities, strengthen our democratic system and ensure that no one is above the law,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Tax secrecy is paramount — the exception being for bona fide investigative and law enforcement purposes.”
One of Trump’s personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow, called the bill “more presidential harassment” on Monday afternoon
“We will respond to this as appropriate,” he added.
The tax bill, which was passed weeks ago by the Democratically controlled state Legislature, makes it easier for New York to turn over the state tax returns of certain public office-holders, along with entities those people control or have a large stake in, that are requested by the leaders of the three congressional tax-writing committees.
“It’s a momentous day for transparency in government, especially when it comes to holding elected officials more accountable,” David Buchwald, a state Assemblyman who sponsored the legislation, told NBC News.
The laws in place prior to Cuomo’s signing of the bill generally bar the release of tax returns, and the congressional panels — the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation — could file a request with the state only after efforts to gain access to federal tax filings through the Treasury Department had failed.
“It underscores the principle of our democracy that nobody, not even the president of the United States, is above the law,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman, another sponsor of the legislation, said.
“I also believe that New York has a unique role and responsibility in this constitutional showdown between Congress and the president over his taxes given that we’re Trump’s home state, we can help potentially avert a constitutional crisis if the House Ways and Means Committee wishes to avail itself of this new law,” he added.
The bill is seen as a clear shot at the president, who has refused to release his tax returns. But it’s been met with resistance from the one Democrat who could actually utilize it.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said he won’t request the state returns because he feels doing so would harm his efforts at obtaining Trump’s federal returns. Last week, Neal sued the IRS and the Treasury Department for those federal returns.
Hoylman said the state Legislature has “given Congress a constitutional escape hatch should they not want to wait for the federal court case and its appeals process to be finalized, which potentially could take months to years.”
“But, I leave it to the wisdom of the congressional tax committees to determine how they’re going to utilize this legislation, if they are at all,” he added.
Neal did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
Opponents of the legislation criticized it as “political,” with one Republican assemblyman, Doug Smith, saying in May as the legislation was being debated that lawmakers were “using this body as a weapon against” Trump.
Meanwhile, Cuomo could act soon on another bill that is aimed at Trump.
That legislation would allow state prosecutors to pursue charges against certain people even if they had received a presidential pardon. Trump has spoken about the possibility of pardoning those accused or convicted of crimes stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Proponents of the new law argue that because Trump has been a lifelong New Yorker, his state return would largely mirror the federal tax documents he has thus far shielded from public view. The law excludes information directly shared by the IRS on state forms, such as itemized income, to comply with federal confidentiality rules as well as other privacy protections for social security numbers and a person’s home address.
“This is a momentous step in upholding the principle that top elected officials have a responsibility to be more transparent and accountable,” Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-White Plains), a tax attorney who authored the legislation, said on Twitter Monday morning.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), whose district abuts but does not include Trump Tower, was the sponsor in the upper chamber.
The House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Joint Committee on Taxation can make requests for New York state tax returns. While House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a longstanding Trump critic, has backed the proposal, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) has thus far focused on obtaining the Trump’s tax returns by other means — including suing last week in federal court to enforce a subpoena ignored by the Trump administration.
It’s just the latest broadside from Empire State Democrats against the president. The state attorney general’s office, now headed by Tish James, has opened multiple probes into Trump’s businesses and charitable dealings, including the forced shutdown of the Trump Foundation in December 2018.
James’ office also successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily block the addition of a controversial citizenship question onto the 2020 census, leading the Commerce Department to begin printing the decennial survey without the question — leaving Trump fuming and scrambling federal officials to seek a last-ditch workaround.
The Legislature has also passed a bill that would decouple state and federal law in a way that would allow state prosecutors to bring charges against individuals who have received presidential pardons. That bill, NY A6653 (19R), has not yet been sent to the governor for his signature.