Donald Trump was able to write off $916 million in taxes, according to 1995 tax documents obtained by The New York Times. Because of tax loopholes available only to the ultra-wealthy, this could have allowed him to avoid paying any federal income taxes for 18 years (that is, until only three years ago, 2013).
Jack Mitnick, who handled Trump’s taxes until 1996, verified his own signature on one of the documents and told the NYT he thought they were “legit.” Trump’s campaign has neither confirmed nor denied the legitimacy of the documents, although they made sure to threaten to sue the NYT if the tax documents were published. (Find them here.)
What does it mean that Trump has built and destroyed several large business empires, only to have those losses turn into a huge tax savings for him, while the stakeholders, bondholders, and employees of those businesses received pennies on the dollar after bankruptcy proceedings?
Allan Sloan, a respected business columnist at The Washington Post, wrote that this absurdly large number isn’t even the most shocking aspect of Trump’s taxes. What’s more absurd is that a rigged tax system allows the ultra wealthy to hide their money and use paper losses to offset any responsibility they have to financially contribute to this country, even as the top one percent disproportionately “earn” 20 percent of the nation’s income. Sloan writes:
“Trump is right when he says the system is rigged. What he doesn’t say is that it’s rigged in his favor and in the favor of people like him — and against regular people, those of us who earn money, pay income tax on it, and financially support the country in which we live.”
Sloan goes on to say that Trump has absolutely no interest in closing these tax loopholes, instead his tax policies “would greatly benefit the commercial real estate business, which is his primary field, and would greatly benefit his own family.”
There’s this line conservatives like to tout, as captured perfectly by this Wall Street Journal headline: Top 20 percent of Earners Pay 84% of Income Tax. This headline obscures the fact that the top 20 percent of households “earned” 51 percent of total U.S. income, it also obscures the impact the top 1 percent have on this statistic.
The wealthiest 1 percent “earned” nearly 20 percent of reported income (say nothing of the offshore tax havens and complicated business structures they use to avoid reporting income). This group paid 38 percent of federal income taxes, meaning the top 19 percent “earned” roughly 31 percent of total U.S. income and paid 46 percent of income tax. Not quite the shocking headline without the influence of the top 1 percent.
In conservative-land the question becomes why don’t the rest of households pay “their fair share,” or as the article goes on to say “And the bottom 20%? They get paid by Uncle Sam.” (Which is a dubious claim anyway.)
But the question really should be why can’t the rest of America actually earn their fair share?
The bottom 40 percent of households earn only 14 percent of total U.S. incomes. These are households making under $47,000 per year, and I say earn, with no quotes, because some of us actually work for our money, we don’t rely on the labor of others to make it for us. In a country still struggling to make sure everyone has access to the necessities of life — like food, healthcare, and housing — $47,000 doesn’t go far. For households trying to support children, that money likely won’t last through the end of the month as expenses like child care can cost $10,000 or more per child annually.
This says nothing for how disproportionately wealth is distributed in this country.
Trump was able to write-off $916 million in losses, and thus avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades. And yet his shoddy business practices seem to have little consequences for him. I believe some in his party like to yell about the value of “personal responsibility?”
It’s absurd that someone can be messing around with sums of money that large, while most Americans in this country struggle to get from the beginning of the month to the end, and yet are blamed by conservatives for not paying their fair share.
Trump’s reported losses are so large, in fact, they’d actually have a measurable impact on the federal government’s 1995 budget. $916 million would have represented a two percent increase in the federal budget for veterans benefits and services, a five percent increase in what was spent on science, space, and technology research, or a 10 percent increase for community and regional development.
It’s outrageous that Trump’s self-serving model has allowed him to live a life of extreme luxury, while important U.S. commitments hardly receive the investment they deserve, because Trump and other ultra-rich folks use clever tax loopholes available only to them to avoid paying their fair share.
Trump — keep on feeling “smart” that most Americans are struggling to get by while you live a life of luxury, by gaming the system. Keep on feeling “smart” all the way to a loss on election day.