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Opinion: ProPublica had no business revealing Polis’ tax returns

Even so, the governor’s explanations don’t match his actions

If you follow politics at all, I am sure that by this point you’ve likely heard about the ProPublica article on Jared Polis’ not paying income tax.  As much as I enjoy seeing a politician whose policy I object to being called out in the press, part of that glee was tempered by a distaste for the article itself.

Cory Gaines

I strongly object to what ProPublica did.

I objected when it was Donald Trump, and I object now when it is Polis. ProPublica took the leaked tax returns of fellow Americans to make very public hay from them. This should not be okay, regardless of whether you like the person or not. A standard only has meaning if it applies to us all.

For that reason, I have no interest at all in seeing the governor’s tax returns. If he chose to release them on his own, that would be different, but he did not choose this.

What’s further, I don’t think there’s much that would be news to me. I already know everything I need to about his taxes, and I knew it prior to his being elected.

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Did Jared Polis, a multi-millionaire, do things with his taxes that you and I couldn’t? You bet your rear he did. Were they illegal? Likely not. People like our governor have resources sufficient to hire full-time staff to get the best deal they can on taxes; that’s another similarity (besides hiding tax returns) he has with Trump, and they have no problem doing it.  

In fact, the funny thing is, if you sit and think about it, our governor has more alike with other rich politicians, regardless of their politics, than he has with nearly any other group. Whether he paid income tax or paid capital gains tax, whether he hired accountants, or did the figures himself, it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is the openness and character of the people we elect. Do we want people whose insides match their outsides? I know I do, and I would hope that, regardless of your political leanings, you do as well.

Disingenuousness, a facility with language to hide meaning and truth, and hypocrisy have no place in our elected officials.  They make it difficult to know what we’ve elected in the same way that a snack with enough sugar to turn your teeth to mush and emblazoned with the label “Fat Free Food!” makes it hard to know how it will affect our body.

Sadly, as I have noted elsewhere, we have a governor who is just that kind of elected official. This bit about his taxes is just another example.

Let me give you an example. In a typical fillibuster-y politician way, Gov. Polis’ lengthy response to Colorado Public Radio questions about his taxes can be boiled down to the following: I will release my tax returns if the other guy does, and, (and here I picture him nodding sadly) the tax system is unfair and I wish it weren’t so.

With regard to the first part, it’s a reasonable enough claim to make. I agree that there should be parity. Making that argument, however, does have a couple effects. It removes your moral authority to demand that an opponent reveal his or her taxes in the future, and it makes your previous statements — Polis’ repeated statements about Trump not releasing his tax returns come to mind — ring as hollow as any we would expect from a lifelong politico.

With regard to the second, I feel it’s important to be fair to the governor and flesh out what he said a little more. In his response to the Colorado Public Radio questions, he mentions signing a bill that  makes Colorado’s tax system harder on the wealthy. He overstates what the bill actually does —it puts a limit on the number of tax deductions one making more than $400,000 a year can claim — but he did sign it.  

Still, there is that darned unfair federal code. If only there was something we could do.

I’m reminded here of an op-ed I saw in the last year written by a group of wealthy Coloradans asking — no, pleading — to be taxed more. My answer to Governor Polis on his taxes would be the exact same as it would be for those others:

Why wait for the system to change? Go forth and pay more now! You have the ability right now to pay more in taxes. You could add to your current tax burden just by adding it at the end of your form.  You could shelter less income. You could claim fewer deductions. You could hire an accountant who was not as competent. There are many ways to do it; it simply requires the genuine (and I stress genuine here) desire.

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And that is the point. He, like any practiced politician, has words that sound right, but don’t hold up to scrutiny well. They sure don’t match his actions.

No, I don’t want to see Governor Polis’ tax returns. I don’t care about the particulars of his deductions. I don’t care what his losses were and what his gains were. I am almost 100% certain that he didn’t break any tax law or do anything far removed from what others in his income bracket do.

I do care that he calls out others while doing it himself. I do care that he bemoans a system’s unfairness while at the same time quietly making absolutely sure he gets off as easy as he can. That I care about and that I don’t like. 


Cory Gaines, of Sterling, teaches math and physics at Northeastern Junior College.


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