Commentary: Romney should just release those tax returns

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverAugust 31, 2012 

If Mitt Romney were seeking a spot on the Raleigh City Council, the Wake County Board of Commissioners or perhaps even one of those prestigious seats in the General Assembly (how’s “state House Rep. Romney” strike you, guy?), his income taxes wouldn’t be of any importance as long as he’d never been locked up for not paying them.

And so Gov. Romney is welcome to come to North Carolina with his family and seek any of those positions with few worries about intrusions into his personal finances. He might be a pretty good council member, too. ’Tis said, after all, that at one of his homes he’s adding a car elevator. Might this technology be applied in some way to establish free parking in downtown? Or perhaps the guv could just put a year of free parking for everybody on his Amex and we could be done with the fussing.

Now Commissioner Romney ... I like the sound of that, although he would have to update his wardrobe to keep up with Commissioners Chairman Paul “The Sportcoat” Coble. Nonetheless, Coble is an example of a fellow with assets (I happen to know he’s never paid less than 50 bucks for a jacket) who is spared the demands for IRS records.

However ...

The super wealthy former Massachusetts governor has chosen to seek the presidency of the United States, and a presidential candidate or a president simply has to give up the idea of privacy about certain kinds of personal and financial information. It can’t be done. The people will not accept it. In the times we’re in, Americans saturated with social media and regular media and 24-7 communications who can call up the U.S. Constitution on their smart phones treat a president with a certain familiarity, as if he were renting out the room over the garage. (“Mr. President! We’re going to the store. How you doin’ for toilet paper?”)

They thus expect that a president shall vow not just to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, but to keep no secrets.

But Mitt Romney has been in an ongoing fuss with Democrats about secrets, and the former governor had better accept the fact that it’s not going away anytime soon.

The issue is income taxes, and the Democrats believe Romney should release multiple tax returns. He says he won’t, without coming up with any particularly appealing reasons. The nation has bigger problems is one reason he cites. Well, it would take about five minutes to release the tax returns and then the candidate could get back to the bigger problems.

Alas for Romney, his recent statement that he’d paid at least 13 percent-plus in income tax over the last 10 years only made things worse. For a guy worth $250 million and reported to have money in offshore accounts (apparently this is a tax advantage the wealthy use), that doesn’t seem like a lot.

I called the guy who helps me put together my tax returns and he said my rate was around 17 percent. Higher than a man who has $250 million and offshore accounts. The closest I ever came to the latter was when I dropped my wallet off a pier at Kure Beach once. And somehow, this information doesn’t give me the urge to boast, “Hey, I paid taxes at a higher rate than Mitt Romney!”

More like, “How come the guy with the car elevator and a fancy speedboat is paying a lower rate than a guy who takes the stairs and has a 45-year-old aluminum fishing canoe?”

There are several possible reasons why Mitt Romney doesn’t want to release his tax returns, and the Republicans need to stop changing the subject and acknowledge them: He’s afraid people will be turned off by the fact that he’s rich and getting richer and he’s probably got “people” using every legal tax rule on the books to keep his tax tab low; the rules, used by experts, mean Romney’s likely paying less in taxes, percentage-wise, than many middle-class folks and he’s helped by investments or deposits overseas; or, there is something in his tax returns that he just doesn’t want voters to see. If we’re wrong, the returns will prove it so.

Romney’s already goofed by talking about percentages, which only makes people more curious. His best and only option is to release the returns, hunker down in the speedboat or a yacht while the blowback comes, and then move on. But if people come to believe that Mitt Romney has not been paying his fair share of taxes even as he advocates a tax plan that would give more breaks to the wealthy, then he is not going to be president.

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