Watching the talking heads and reading the press accounts (at least the NY Times version) regarding the release of Trump’s taxes indicates one sure thing: once again we are ascending what Jon Stewart used to call “Bullshit Mountain.” The points the media make are so baseless, it’s time for a brief reality check. At the outset, I state unreservedly I am not a Trump fan. You can disagree with him: on the issues, on injecting discord into our public discourse, or on the fact that when he refers to “grabbing pussy” he is not announcing National Kitten Awareness Day. However here are a few points indicating how out-of-balance the media focus has become.
The Times in its “news” article (as opposed to opinion) suggested the fact that Trump in 2005 paid his tax on the AMT base (alternative minimum tax) and was now pledged to repeal the AMT, indicated that he’s pushing changes benefiting the millionaire class. WRONG. The AMT in the early ‘70’s was designed to force high income individuals to have to pay some tax and not rely on loopholes to avoid taxation entirely. Approximately 19,000 were impacted when the law was first enacted in 1969; over 4 million now are hit by AMT, largely due to Congress’s failure to index for cost of living.Indeed, if your income hits $75,000, you could be subject to the AMT.$75,000 and 4 million citizens! All these people generally forfeit otherwise bona fide deductions under the outdated AMT regime. Thus this is a system crying out for reform and goes well beyond affecting only the multimillionaire class.
Since the brief bits of the Trump tax return did not include details of where he received his income from, the talking heads were hyperventilating that it could have come from…Russia! Sure. It could also have come from a blood-dripping fanged Satan. Look, there is no basis other than insinuation to raise the Red flag.Wasn’t that a hallmark of McCarthyism?
Should Trump have released his returns in any event? Yes, but that issue was effectively “litigated” during the election campaign and seemingly put to rest.More to the point, while the media has not violated any statute in publishing the data, is there no decency (a comment once directed at Sen. McCarthy) regarding one’s private life? An IRS agent who worked on John F. Kennedy’s estate tax return once shared with me (a private citizen, albeit a tax professional) intimate details of JFK’s estate.Admittedly, unlike Ulysses’ men confronting the Sirens, I did not plug up my ears. However such disclosure by IRS agents, press, anyone, is an unwarranted intrusion. Note: I do not see any of the reporters sharing their returns.
Although Trump in 2005 paid $38 million, per the Times, “By claiming losses, Mr. Trump apparently saved millions of dollars in taxes that he would otherwise have owed.” Another instance of guilt by innuendo. The tax code includes many legitimate deductions (charitable contributions, net operating loss carryovers, depreciation, etc.) that could legitimately reduce one’s tax bite. Hey, I reduce my income by the amount I toss in the church collection basket each Sunday. That does not make me or anyone, including a person you view as odious, a tax cheat.
There are many items about Trump’s taxes I’d love to see. And some aspects of his return might be fit subjects for informed analysis. As a good tax man, I could go on endlessly. However mindful of my wife’s admonition when we are out with friends not to talk tax shop endlessly, I will rest on the above- stated eloquence.
Kenneth T. Zemsky is a managing director with AndersenTax in New York, teaches tax law at Rutgers University and is the author of the recently published novel, To The Close of the Age, about time travelers who visit the first Easter to determine if Jesus actually rose from the dead.