Tag Archives | corporate interests

Corporate Cayman Islands tax shelters rip off U.S. taxpayers

*”Corporations are people, my friend.”
–Mitt Romney, August 11, 2011

Statistic of the day: A single five-story office building is the registered address of more than 18,000 companies.

How is that possible? Well, the building is in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands, and most of those businesses are registered there only for tax purposes.

As Citizens for Tax Justice and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund explained in a report earlier this year, more than 70% of the Fortune 500 had subsidiaries in tax havens in 2013. The report estimates that multinationals are using these subsidiaries to avoid approximately $90 billion in federal income taxes annually.

US companies reported $129 billion in earnings in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands in 2010. “Assuming you believe those figures, the productivity of workers in those countries is amazing,” Floyd Norris, his tongue almost bursting out of his cheek, wrote in The New York Times. “On average, United States companies had profits of $873,611 per person living in those islands.”

Such ridiculous numbers are merely a product of the process by which multinationals can–legally–reduce their U.S. taxes. Currently there is no significant movement on Capitol Hill to close any of the loopholes or change the laws that make these moves possible.

Why do taxpayers think the tax code is rigged in favor of large corporations? Maybe because it is.

Multinationals seek tax heavens, er, havens . . . oh, what’s the diff?

More and more U.S.-based corporations are growing wings and flying away from their U.S. tax obligations.

Bloomberg puts it as simply as possible: “U.S. companies looking for lower tax bills are heading for the exits, and Congress is doing nothing to stop them.”

The immediate impetus for the story was Pfizer’s proposed purchase of AstraZeneca, which would result in Pfizer reincorporating in Britain while tapping literally billions of dollars it has been holding outside the U.S., as The New York Times reported.

What’s the solution? Congress could grow a set and change the tax laws so that there is a crackdown on companies that use tax havens to keep profits outside of the U.S. system, as Steven Rattner suggests. Rattner also suggests in essence giving up on taxing corporations and instead increasing taxes on profits at the shareholder level, which would effectively increase the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.

I don’t know what the solution is, but when you consider that the effective federal tax rate paid by corporations has dropped from more than 40% in the 1950s to about 15% today, it seems clear that something has to change.

Delta Airlines pays zero tax on $2.7 billion in earnings in 2013

When people have a bad financial year, they generally don’t get any tax benefit. But when corporations lose money, the losses don’t disappear. For tax purposes, they are carried forward to future years, and can result in companies making billions but still owing nothing.

Case in point: Delta Airlines, which, as Bloomberg Business Week explains, won’t owe anything on its $2.7 billion in earnings last year.

Delta isn’t doing anything special here–the ability to carry forward corporate losses is an ordinary and well-established feature of the tax code. And indeed, in some cases an individual taxpayer could have such a bad year that he would have a loss that could carry forward to another year.

Mitt Romney famously said on the campaign trail that corporations are people. What he didn’t explain is that they’re people who sometimes have better tax benefits than actual people.

For privileged corporations, paying state taxes is increasingly becoming a thing of the past

States regularly offer tax incentives (or, depending on your point of view, corporate welfare) to major corporations in exchange for promises of expansion, corporate relocation, retention of old jobs, creation of new jobs, and anything else with the word ‘jobs’ in the sentence. If you think about it, it’s an almost mindless rush to the bottom: the more tax incentives that get offered, the lower overall corporate taxes paid to all states and the more states will have to look to other sources (that’s you, Mr. & Ms. Non-Corporation) to make up the difference.

Now at least one state politician is trying to reverse this trend, or at least slow it down. The New York Times reports that Missouri governor Jay Nixon has called for a halt to the tax incentive border war between that state and Kansas.

“That is bad for taxpayers,” Mr. Nixon said of the moving of jobs. “It’s bad for our state budget, and it’s not good for our economy.”

Meanwhile, the Washington State legislature has just passed what Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat reports is the largest state tax subsidy in history—more than $8 billion-with-a-B in corporate tax breaks — almost entirely for Boeing-with-a-B — over 15 years.

Apple avoids billions in taxes, and it all looks legal; those guys really are smart

Lawmakers are using words like “gimmicks” and “schemes” to describe how Apple Corporation has used a web of subsidiaries spanning the globe to avoid taxes. There are hearings this week at which Congressmen are expected to say they are shocked, shocked, to hear of tax loopholes being exploited.

As The New York Times reported, Congressional investigators have determined that “some of Apple’s subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. But by officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless — exempt from taxes, record-keeping laws and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.”

One of Apple’s Irish affiliates reported profits of $30 billion between 2009 and 2012, but because it did not technically belong to any country, it paid no taxes to any government, The Washington Post reported. Another paid a tax rate of 0.05 percent in 2011 on $22 billion in earnings, according to the report.

It’s not expected that any of this will be determined to be illegal–just a highly proactive use of the existing tax rules. Interviewed by The Times, University of Southern California law professor Edward Kleinbard, a former staff director at the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, gets the Quote Of The Week Award. “There is a technical term economists like to use for behavior like this,” said Kleinbard. “Unbelievable chutzpah.”