The longer former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stalls on releasing his tax returns, the more it looks like the Republican presidential candidate has something to hide. Romney's concession Tuesday to release them in April — after months of suggesting he did not plan to release them at all — is progress. But for a seasoned politician and second-time presidential contender, that's far too late. Voters deserve to know more about Romney's financial profile before they cast their primary votes in South Carolina on Saturday and Florida later this month.
There is no legal requirement for presidential contenders to release tax returns, but it's a well-established tradition. Romney's own father, then-Michigan Gov. George Romney, was a trailblazer in that regard when he released 12 years of tax returns as he ran for the 1968 Republican nomination. The reason for the disclosure then is the same as it is now: Voters have a right to know the financial encumbrances of those who seek to lead this democracy.
But Romney has been far more cagey, and a couple of revelations Tuesday hint at potentially one reason. Romney is clearly a beneficiary of a skewed tax policy that the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service cited earlier this month as being a major contributor to the nation's growing income inequity: lower capital gains taxes. Romney estimated Tuesday that his effective tax rate was about 15 percent — the same rate for capital gains taxes since 2003, and far less than the top ordinary income tax rate of 35 percent.
Then there was Romney's unfortunate characterization Tuesday that his speaking engagements had "not (earned) very much" annually — despite a USA Today estimate that he collected $362,000. That suggests a candidate wholly out of touch with the fiscal reality facing most of the people he wishes to lead.
Romney, of course, has never made it a secret that he is rich. Nor is he the first multimillionaire to seek the Oval Office. And to his credit, unlike most of his Republican opponents, he supports keeping a tax on capital gains for households earning more than $200,000 a year. President Barack Obama, however, has a better plan that addresses not only the country's deficit but also the inherent unfairness of the current tax scheme. He would raise the rate to 20 percent.
Obama, by the way, apparently took a cue from the senior Romney, releasing seven years of tax returns when he sought office in 2008. He has released his annual return ever since. Voters deserve no less from the presumed Republican presidential nominee.