The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
Yesterday, I testified before the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight on “tax fairness,” and the hearing spotlighted the reporting of new details on President Trump’s income taxes by The New York Times. The recent Times report filled out a picture of Trump’s returns that began to emerge in earlier articles.
This picture calls into question the president’s returns in three respects: (1) the fairness of the amount of income taxes he reportedly paid, (2) the fairness of his reported business losses, and (3) the fairness of the IRS audit of his income taxes.
First, I believe the $750 of income tax reportedly paid by the president in 2017 was not fair. For instance, $750 is lower than the income tax paid by the average taxpayer in every income group that we might use to compare. It even is lower than what 90 percent of middle-income households paid that year, and lower than what 99.6 percent of millionaires—a group in which Trump puts himself—paid.
Perhaps Trump’s 2017 tax return represented a businessman who had a bad year. But, according to The Times, he paid little or no income taxes for many, many years.
Second, The Times reported that Trump’s businesses routinely had large expenses and losses, which would only be fair if the expenses were genuine—and accurate. I have raised questions about his large tax losses in the past. But we can’t tell if the losses reported by The Times were genuine and accurate, without more facts.
Third, according to The Times, the IRS continues to audit the president’s 2009 income tax return, including a claimed $700 million loss. The IRS also is auditing his subsequent returns. Again, without more information we can’t tell whether the IRS is conducting these audits fairly and impartially.
The IRS often struggles to audit complicated financial arrangements and passthrough business entities like Trump’s. So separating the delay that is attributable to the sprawling nature of President Trump’s business empire from any delay due to his status as president is impossible without more information.
Untangling the source of the audit delay is important. We have only one president, and he directs the entire executive branch, including the IRS. That is why the subcommittee and the full Ways & Means Committee should continue to exercise their oversight responsibilities.
Posts and comments are solely the opinion of the author and not that of the Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute, or Brookings Institution.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo