Actor Alec Baldwin and Dean Skelos, majority leader of the New York Senate, went at it yesterday over proposals to tax the state's richer residents.
There were no physical blows. The heated exchange was via Twitter.
The online fight erupted after the avidly liberal Baldwin, Emmy-winning star of NBC's 30 Rock sitcom where he plays a conservative network executive, slammed Skelos, cited by some locals as the state's most powerful Republican lawmaker, after Skelos blasted the actor for supporting higher taxes on the wealthy.
The main point of contention was a plan to retain New York's surcharge on top earners, something the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, says he opposes and which was pointed out by the Long Island lawmaker:
But like all fights regardless of how and where they are conducted, the Baldwin-Skelos battle via Twitter quickly headed into other, sometimes personal, areas.
Skelos shot back with a comment about one of Baldwin's side gigs:
Calling for lawmaker to show his taxes: But the exchange that caught my eye was Baldwin's repeated calls for Skelos to make public his tax returns.
Baldwin contends that he pays more in income taxes in one year than Skelos pays in 20, although the actor didn't expressly say he'd make his returns public, too.
The public tax return issue: So what is the deal of late with wanting to see people's tax returns?
We just had the Warren Buffett brouhaha after the Oracle of Omaha questioned the fairness of the current tax system. Buffett said he paid less in taxes than his secretary and several anti-tax folks wanted him to prove it.
Buffett eventually made public some of his filing information ($15,300 in payroll taxes on almost $63 million), but not the returns themselves.
And Donald Trump, in his brief foray into candidate waters, used the possibility of revealing his taxes as a weapon for another political hot button issue.
Taxpayers in control of their returns' availability: All of this show and tell is, of course, voluntary.
The Internal Revenue Service has strict taxpayer privacy rules. So strict, in fact, that the regulations sometimes prevent the agency from collecting taxes or stopping illegal tax schemes.
Taxpayers, public and private, are the only ones who can open up their tax files to the public.
Tax Peeping Toms: But why do we care? The candidates don't do their own taxes so it provides no insight on their understanding of the tax code or their ability to fill out the forms.
And you can be sure that if returns are released, there will be no hint of any potentially questionable tax-cutting moves.
We can see what tax breaks they claim, specifically which ones they use just the same as you and I in our filings.
That allows us to nod knowingly when the candidate gets a $1,000 per child tax credit, wonder about a candidate's health if he claimed a lot of medical deductions and tsk-tsk because there was so little in the candidate's charitable donations section of Schedule A.
But the main reason we want to see their tax returns is that we want to know exactly how much money they made.
And why does that really matter?
We already know they are rich. Only rich people tend to run, at least successfully, for public office, especially on the national level.
Should our tax voyeurism really be allowed to supersede the right of tax privacy we all enjoy? I don't think so.
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