Donald Trump qualifies for a tax break he claims he’s too rich to take

So that‘s why Donald Trump doesn’t want to release his tax returns.

According to the New York business magazine, Crains, Donald Trump has in recent years qualified for a tax break that you’re only eligible to claim if you make less than $500,000 per year.

This would call into question his boasts of being worth over “10 BILLION DOLLARS,” to say the least.

From Crains:

It’s called the STAR program, which stands for the New York State School Tax Relief Program and has been around since 1997. It offers an approximately $300 annual benefit for those who qualify. Hundreds of thousands of New York homeowners get it.

Here’s where it gets interesting for Trump: To be eligible for STAR, a married couple must have annual income of $500,000 or less. One wouldn’t think a guy as rich as Trump claims to be would qualify, but records filed with the city’s Department of Finance show he received a $302 STAR benefit on his latest property-tax bill for his Trump Tower penthouse on Fifth Avenue.

The only way Trump could have qualified for this tax break, according to the state of New York, is if he sent them a copy of his federal income tax return — showing an annual income of less than $500,000 — and declared his Fifth Avenue penthouse as his primary residence. Asked about the $302 that Trump didn’t have to pay in taxes last year, on again/off again campaign manager and crowd enforcer Cory Lewandowski insisted that Trump had received the exemption as a result of an error on the part of New York State. According to Lewandowski, the government just decided out of the blue to send Donald Trump a few hundred bucks that he hadn’t asked for since 2009 — conveniently, the year New York State began checking the incomes of STAR program applicants.

To be clear, wealth and income are two very different things. It is theoretically possible for Trump to have a high income and a stupid high net worth, especially if most of his assets are tied up in real estate. That said, if Trump really is as rich as he says he is, how big of a cheapskate does he have to be, and how aggressively does he have to arrange is finances, in order to go that far out of his way for $300? In relative terms, that’s worth less to a multi-billionaire than a penny on the sidewalk is to the rest of us. When’s the last time you filled out paperwork for a penny?

And lest Trump follows up his claim that New York simply made an error in giving him a tax break he was too rich to qualify for, Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo has you covered:

Donald Trump, via iprimages / Flickr

Donald Trump, via iprimages / Flickr

Shortly after Crain’s initial report in March, New York City officials said they believed Trump had received the tax break in error and asked Trump to pay up. But it wasn’t clear that New York City was saying he’d received the tax break in error because of his taxable income on file with the state. It seemed either to be because of his publicly professed wealth or because the Trump Tower apartment may not even have been his primary residence. He’s apparently listed two primary residences in New York City. So, as Crain’s notes, New York City’s statement still suggests that Trump’s income was at some point in the last three years less than $500k.

It is still technically possible that Trump really is as rich, or close to as rich, as he claims. But in order to square being worth TEN BILLION DOLLARS with seeking and qualifying for a $300 tax break for people making less than $500,000 per year, you have to believe some combination of the following things: Donald Trump’s self-professed net worth is orders of magnitude greater than his liquid assets, New York State makes a habit of doling out cash and/or he is the reincarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Or he’s grossly exaggerating his wealth, and that’s why he doesn’t want to let the public take a look at his finances. You decide which of these is the most plausible.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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