New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Monday that would allow certain members of Congress to access President Donald Trump's state tax returns.
The bill, which Cuomo had been expected to sign into law, requires state tax officials to release the tax returns of public officials which have been requested by one of three congressional committees — the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation — if they have cited "specified and legitimate legislative purpose" in seeking them.
"By amending the law enforcement exception in New York State tax code to include congressional tax-related committees, this bill gives Congress the ability to fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities, strengthen our democratic system and ensure that no one is above the law," the Democratic governor said in a statement. "Tax secrecy is paramount — the exception being for bona fide investigative and law enforcement purposes."
The tax bill, which was passed in May by the Democratic-controlled state legislature, would allow the state's tax commissioner to release any New York tax returns requested by the chairs of the three congressional tax-writing committees. Federal law gives the those committees the authority to request and inspect the tax information of any U.S. taxpayer from the Treasury Department, the president's included. However, the Trump administration has failed to comply with requests made by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.
New York Democrats are hopeful the legislation will present their federal counterparts with a way around the president's refusal to turn over his financial information. Although the measure would permit the release only of the president's state documents, the fact that much of his business dealings have been conducted in the Empire State suggests such disclosures could be as revealing as his federal ones.
The bill is considered a clear jab at the president, who bucked decades of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns during the 2016 election cycle and throughout time in the White House. But Neal, one of the Democrats who can use the bill to his advantage, is reluctant to engage with New York on the state returns.
Neal has previously suggested that he may not request access to Trump's state returns, because he feels doing so would derail his own efforts with the Treasury Department, Bloomberg News reported. He filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) last week over the White House's refusal to provide lawmakers with six access of Trump's federal tax returns.
The move escalated the standoff between the executive and legislative branches of government over the president's financial records, setting the stage for what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle. It followed months of fighting between the House Ways and Means Committee, which requested and then subpoenaed the returns, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
The outcome of the dispute will likely determine whether the financial information that Trump has kept secret will be viewed by Congress and the public.
The Treasury Department and Republicans in Congress have argued that the requesting Trump's tax returns represents an abuse of power.