The self-proclaimed billionaire gets a tax break for New Yorkers whose incomes are $500,000 a year or less
Photo: Associated Press
Donald Trump just keeps on getting a tax break for the middle class.
Donald Trump's New York City property tax bill, published June 3, shows he once again received a tax break aimed at middle-class New Yorkers.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s latest property tax bill shows he was awarded a credit under the STAR program, or the New York State School Tax Relief Program. To be eligible for STAR, a married couple must have annual income of $500,000 or less. You wouldn’t think a guy as rich as Trump claims to be would qualify, but he has received the credit for several years and records filed over the weekend with the city’s Department of Finance show he received a $304 STAR tax break for his Trump Tower penthouse.
While the amount of the credit is trivial for a high-roller, the fact that Trump gets it calls into question his claims that he's "really rich" with a fortune worth in excess of $10 billion. Trump's tax bill comes to around $96,611 after receiving a condo abatement worth $20,493.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the city made an error in providing the tax credit and a correction "is in process." When Crain’s first reported on the STAR credit in March, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office agreed an error had been made, though she wouldn’t explain how it happened. On Monday, however, a city spokeswoman told CNN that it was "reviewing Mr. Trump's exemption status," which suggests the city isn't so sure it made a mistake.
The city’s Department of Finance has said it checks with New York state tax authorities every year to make sure applicants for the STAR benefit have income under $500,000. The state receives a list of STAR recipients every year and notifies the city of who is eligible. The state defines income for STAR purposes as federal adjusted gross income minus the taxable amount of total distributions from annuities or individual retirement accounts.
To try to sort it out, in March Crain’s asked for copies of Trump’s STAR applications under New York’s Freedom of Information Law. But after a two-month search, the Department of Finance said that no documents could be found. So the mystery of the billionaire and his middle-class tax break continues.
Because Trump has refused to release his income tax returns, for now his property-tax bills are about the only available window into his finances that doesn’t come from him. It’s conceivable that Trump is in fact very wealthy, thanks to his property holdings and licensing agreements, and manages to lower his annual income to under $500,000 by taking advantage of loopholes in the tax code that give real estate professionals many ways to minimize income.
Such maneuvers may comply with tax law, but could be difficult to explain to voters. Or his fortune may simply be much smaller than he's claimed.
For what it's worth, Trump's accountant appears to be an expert in the STAR program. The accountant, Donald Bender of the firm WeiserMazars, in 2013 posted an article on his LinkedIn page explaining some changes in STAR that required eligible recipients to re-register.