Trump’s not-so-se­cret truth

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

Don­ald Trump’s wall of se­crecy and se­cu­rity is slowly be­ing chipped away in the fi­nal weeks of a bruis­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Over the week­end, the New York Times pub­lished the first glimpse in­side the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee’s fi­nan­cial his­tory, and while it didn’t re­veal wrong­do­ing it did raise eye­brows.

Trump’s 1995 state tax re­turns, anony­mously mailed to the Times and ver­i­fied through his ac­coun­tant of the pe­riod, show that he de­clared a $916 mil­lion net op­er­at­ing loss, a tax de­duc­tion so sub­stan­tial it could have al­lowed him to legally avoid pay­ing any fed­eral in­come taxes for up to 18 years. His cam­paign has not re­leased his tax re­turns so far, some­thing that ev­ery pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has done for decades, claim­ing that they are sub­ject to an In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice au­dit and he has been ad­vised by coun­sel to not re­lease them.

While his cam­paign did not deny the ve­rac­ity of the records pub­lished by the Times, it said, as a good busi­ness­man, he in­tends to de­crease his tax bur­den as much as pos­si­ble.

While we un­der­stand that ar­gu­ment, what the Times’ re­views of Trump’s deal­ings have found time and again is that the busi­ness­man has ex­ploited and fought for ev­ery avail­able tax break pos­si­ble in or­der to in­crease his bot­tom line. When he sought to tear down a vi­able Man­hat­tan store with hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees in or­der to build Trump Tower, New York City re­jected a tax break meant for re­de­vel­op­ing va­cant spa­ces. Trump sued and lost, but ap­pealed to the state’s higher court where he won — re­ceiv­ing a 10-year tax abate­ment val­ued at $22.5 mil­lion.

His first ma­jor project, the Grand Hy­att ho­tel, which is a ma­jor sub­ject in his best­selling book “The Art of the Deal,” was di­rectly ben­e­fited by a record 40-year tax break that has cost New York City $360 mil­lion to date with four years re­main­ing. The ho­tel’s own­ers have paid the city $202 mil­lion in the same pe­riod and have pre­vi­ously tried to un­der­cut their obli­ga­tion. An ac­count­ing of 1986 re­turns found glar­ing dis­crep­an­cies, and fol­low­ing a law­suit, the ho­tel’s part­ners paid a $850,000 set­tle­ment.

Trump has reaped at least $885 mil­lion in tax breaks, grants and other sub­si­dies for lux­ury apartments, ho­tels and of­fice build­ings in New York, ac­cord­ing to a Times in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But Trump’s op­por­tunis­tic side didn’t just re­side in Man­hat­tan.

In the early 2000s, as his At­lantic City casi­nos con­tin­ued to fail and New Jer­sey sought up to $30 mil­lion in long-over­due back taxes, the state con­ve­niently ap­proved a set­tle­ment of just $5 mil­lion. What raised eye­brows then? Trump’s best buddy, Chris Christie, had re­cently been elected gover­nor.

But the ques­tion re­mains: So what? Why should we care if Trump is a shark?

Af­ter all, Trump even said dur­ing the first de­bate that not pay­ing taxes “makes me smart.”

It mat­ters be­cause the ev­i­dence has shown time and again that he does what is best for him­self, even when it comes at the ex­pense of ev­ery­one else.

For ex­am­ple, be­tween 1995 and 2009 when his At­lantic City casi­nos were fail­ing, Trump cre­ated a pub­licly traded com­pany and named him­self pres­i­dent, earn­ing about $45 mil­lion along the way. Or­di­nary in­vestors in the new com­pany, how­ever, saw the value of their shares plunge to 17 cents from $35.50, while scores of con­trac­tors went un­paid for work on the casi­nos and bond­hold­ers re­ceived pen­nies on the dol­lar, the Times found.

When he seeks out tax breaks from gov­ern­ments around the coun­try, or­di­nary tax­pay­ers are foot­ing the bill while he’s en­abled to bump up his condo and build­ing sales with their ben­e­fits.

Com­bine that in­for­ma­tion with the fact that anal­y­sis of the tax plan put for­ward by his cam­paign finds he would re­peal taxes, but mostly for the uber-rich. He pro­poses to re­peal the es­tate tax, which would dra­mat­i­cally ben­e­fit old wealth fam­i­lies like his own, on the be­lief that they would then trickle down those sav­ings to the rest of us.

Top that off with per­haps the best nugget of re­port­ing from the Times this past week, com­ing from Trump’s now re­tired ac­coun­tant: the busi­ness “ge­nius” asked fewer ques­tions about his pre­pared tax re­turns than his ex-wife did and rarely showed in­ter­est in the strat­egy used to es­ti­mate his re­turn.

When Trump says that no one knows more about Amer­ica’s tax code than he does, there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that is true. What we do know is that he had a great ac­coun­tant, ex­ploited pub­lic funds to build his em­pire and is afraid to let Amer­i­cans know that.

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