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Trump’s $916 million tax loss is colossal

What could Donald Trump’s $916 million buy? Thomas Farragher set out to provide some answers.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

So now we find out that the billionaire with the big brain was really a boneheaded businessman who drove his companies so far into the ground in the 1990s that he could avoid paying taxes on almost $1 billion in income.

It’s difficult for most people to wrap their arms around what $916 million looks like — a figure so large in 1995 that it would have allowed Donald Trump to erase more than $50 million a year in taxable income for nearly two decades.

How big is the nearly $1 billion hole Trump managed to dig?

It’s nearly enough to pay for our state college and university system for a year.


It’s about the amount the MBTA gets each year in sales tax revenue.

It’s more than we send each year to the state Department of Mental Health, which our Spotlight Team has shown could surely use all the help it can get.

It’s roughly what we spend each year on the Department of Children and Families, which supplies a vital safety net designed to protect kids from abuse and neglect.

When I called Governor Charlie Baker, who unlike Trump actually knows something about finance and governing, to ask what he’d do with $1 billion, the answer was short and sweet:

That kind of money would be enough to give every Massachusetts taxpayer a $300 income tax refund for one year.

The precise amount that Trump legally kept in his bank account won’t be clear until he releases his full returns. That would be the 12th of Never.

But those among us who don’t ride around in helicopters or live in gilded palaces are using the $916 million figure — reported by The New York Times — to dreamily calculate on the backs of envelopes how much good that money could do.


Marla Felcher, founder of the Philanthropy Connection in Cambridge, a women’s collective giving group, says that kind of money could pay to train and hire enough teachers to make Boston’s schools as good as any elite private school.

Elisabeth Babcock, president and CEO of Empath, which works to lift families out of poverty, figures that money could train almost 20,000 families, dramatically boost their income, and open doors to college.

“Society isn’t built on one person being ‘smart’ for themselves,’’ Babcock said. “Society is built on people being smart for each other. When one of us thrives as a billionaire, that’s one billionaire. When 20,000 of us move out of poverty, that’s generations of change.’’

Congressman Seth Moulton knows what he would do with the millions Trump and his accountants, using a legal but imbalanced tax code, diverted from our national treasury.

The North Shore Democrat, a decorated former Marine captain who served four tours in Iraq, would spend that money to improve education, increase military pay, battle homelessness, improve addiction programs, and help local fishermen who look to the ocean’s horizon and watch livelihoods evaporate.

Moulton says he’s genuinely frightened Trump is so close to the Oval Office. “This guy is a fraud,’’ he said. “There are a lot of Trump supporters today who will be ashamed to tell their grandchildren one day that they supported this racist maniac for president.’’

I spoke this week with the Rev. Jack Ahern, who until August was pastor of the Dorchester Tri-Parishes, which includes Blessed Mother Teresa Parish on Columbia Road.


Father Ahern, who now leads a parish in Randolph, fairly salivates when he imagines what he could have done with the money Trump avoided sending to the treasury. The food pantry at his old church now feeds upwards of 600 families each month.

“This is outrageous,’’ he said of the Republican nominee’s tax-free ride. “He has no sense of the many people living on the margins — whether they’re hungry or immigrants or out of jobs. He’s so protective of his wealth and privilege.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s heartless.’’

Right on, brother. I mean: Amen, Father.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @FarragherTom.