By Yancey Roy
The State Assembly approved a bill Wednesday opening the door for Congress to get President Donald Trump's New York state tax returns, potentially giving Democrats a way around the White House's refusal to make available his federal returns.
The State Senate had already approved the bill, meaning it is now in the hands of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat. Earlier this year, an aide said the governor could support the legislation "as long as it applies to everybody" and not just to Trump.
The income-tax bill would authorize the New York Department of Taxation and Finance to release state tax returns to three congressional committees, upon request: the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee or the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Trump lives in New York, which also is home to his businesses. Analysts and lawmakers have said his state tax returns would contain much of the same information as his federal returns.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration said it wouldn't provide the president's tax returns, which had been requested by the House Ways and Means Committee. Democrats taking action in Albany said the bill was about ensuring oversight and that "no one is above the law."
"We are trying to preserve our democratic norms -- which are being undermined daily by the current administration," Assemb. Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) said.
The bill was approved 84-53, largely along political lines in the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber. But a handful of Democrats opposed the bill, saying it set a "troubling" precedent.
"Make no mistake, I have complete disdain for what is going on in Washington," Assemb. Michael Benedetto (D-Bronx) said. "But we are traveling down a path we should not be traveling down."
The lone Long Islander not adhering to party lines was Assemb. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who voted against the bill.
Assemb. Robert Smullen (R-Johnstown) called the bill "unnecessary" and "unconstitutional." Assemb. Andy Goodell (R-Jamestown) said it was legislation "solely designed for political headlines on a national stage."
Assemb. David Buchwald (D-White Plains) contended the purpose was about transparency and ensuring "no one can say they are not accountable to Congress."
The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee asked for Trump's returns in April and in May issued a subpoena for them. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has refused to comply, saying the request lacked a legitimate legislative purpose -- setting up a potential court challenge.
Democrats, who control all the levers of power in New York state government, said they would step in to counter "White House stonewalling."
Democrats noted that the original bill was much broader in scope in terms of whose taxes Congress could access. A subsequent amendment, approved in a separate, 85-49 vote, limited the scope to a president, a vice president, a New York congressional member, a governor and a raft of state and locally elected officials. The Democratic-led State Senate also approved the amendment, 39-21.
While even some Republicans said the amendment was an improvement, others said all the alteration accomplished was to make clear it was a blatantly political bill.
"Now we are clearly going after the target it was meant for all along, the president and his family," Niagara County Republican Sen. Robert Ortt said.
A day earlier, the Assembly gave final legislative passage to another bill triggered by Trump. It would allow prosecutors to bring state charges against a U.S. president and his associates who are accused of federal crimes and receive presidential pardons. The bill is not retroactive and could not affect, for example, Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager who was convicted on tax fraud and bank fraud charges in connection with the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.