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Should governor candidates release tax returns?

• Dec 4, 2017 at 12:00 AM

The (Nashville) Tennessean reported last week that four of the seven major party candidates running for governor next year have declined to release details of their federal income tax returns.

The newspaper asked five Republicans and two Democrats for copies of their tax filings. Of that group, Republicans U.S. Rep. Diane Black and state House Speaker Beth Harwell provided financial summaries, and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh released his 2016 tax return.

Among the remaining Republicans, former state Sen. Mae Beavers and businessmen Randy Boyd of Knoxville and Bill Lee of Williamson County have declined the request, as did former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is a Democrat.

Dean and Boyd did not rule out releasing their tax information at a later time.

Lee, who runs his family-owned construction company, told The Tennessean he would not release his income in the interest of “protecting my business and the over 1,200 employees there.”

Information released by Black’s campaign show she and her husband, David, earned $7.2 million in 2016. Back was once named named one of the richest members of Congress.

Meanwhile, The Tennessean reported an income tax summary prepared by a certified public accountant shows Harwell and her husband, Sam, who owns Big Time Toys, reported about $369,000 in income last year.

Fitzhugh, a Democrat who is CEO and chairman of a small bank chain in Ripley, and his wife, Pamela, reported taxable income in 2016 of roughly $392,000. The couple paid $91,000 in federal taxes.

Candidates running for governor in Tennessee have generally made their federal tax returns public information. That was not the case in 2010 when Bill Haslam, the eventual winner of that year’s bitter GOP gubernatorial primary, refused to follow tradition.

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, told The Tennessean she believes releasing tax returns helps shine a light on candidates that often proves be be valuable to voters.

“Citizens benefit from a high standard of transparency for all candidates because even though one might be as honest as the sky is blue, that higher across-the-board standard has an immunizing quality against any who are not,” she told the Nashville newspaper.

Tell us what you think. Should candidates for governor be expected to release their federal tax returns?

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