State legislators have opened a Pandora’s Box of potential abuses in their misguided attempt to help their friends in Congress.
President Donald Trump and members of his administration have refused requests made by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to make his federal tax returns available. This sets up a pending legal battle between the government’s executive and legislative branches.
But Democratic lawmakers in Albany have decided to jump into the fray. They have created a risky precedent that could be exploited down the road to punish political rivals.
On Wednesday, the state Legislature passed two bills to require the state Department of Taxation and Finance to “cooperate with investigations by certain committees of the United States Congress under certain circumstances,” according to the legislation’s summary. If signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the bills (A7750/S6146 and A7194/S5072A) will provide the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee, U.S. Senate Finance Committee or Joint Committee on Taxation access to the state tax returns of “certain federal, state and local elected officials, federal executive staff, federal officers confirmed by the U.S. Senate or the return of companies they have control over.”
The laws would require the redaction of “any information that, if disclosed, would violate state or federal law or would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy (e.g. Social Security numbers, account numbers and residential address information). Requests for this information “must be accompanied by certification that the tax returns or reports have been requested for a specified and legitimate legislative purpose …”
Opponents of the measure believe the Legislature took this action to target Mr. Trump. This could classify the legislation as a “bill of attainder,” which would render it unconstitutional.
However, it covers numerous elected officials and government employees. While the intent may be to pass along the state tax returns of Mr. Trump, the laws could be used against any number of individuals.
This is the disturbing aspect of this legislation. There already are ways to make state tax returns available to federal authorities under specific circumstances, but these steps aren’t quick enough for Democrats on Capitol Hill and in Albany. So the state Legislature apparently passed these bills to speed up the process.
“New York has a unique role to help head off the constitutional crisis brewing between Congress and the White House over refusal to comply with the request for Donald Trump’s tax returns,” bill sponsor Sen. Brad M. Hoylman, D-Manhattan, was quoted as saying in a story published Wednesday by the Times-Union in Albany. “We are affirming Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government and the sacred constitutional principle that nobody is above the law, not even the highest elected official in the land.”
There are some flaws in Mr. Hoylman’s rationale for promoting this measure.
Politicians these days are too quick to declare a “constitutional crisis” when things don’t go their way. Members of Congress have methods to obtain the information they seek from Mr. Trump.
And it’s not the state Legislature’s job to do Congress’s job. Ensuring a balance of power between the three branches of federal government must not become a priority of members of the state Assembly and Senate.
Greasing the flow of sensitive information between Albany and Washington is an abuse of authority waiting to happen. State Democrats undoubtedly believe this measure will help their colleagues on Capitol Hill defeat Mr. Trump in 2020.
And once that becomes the goal, which individual will be on the hit list next time?
The threat of invoking this law could be used to stifle debate, change the course of elections, and exert influence and power over rivals. Mr. Cuomo must force Congress to use the resources it now possesses by vetoing these bills.