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“The Real Tax Threat To American Businesses”: Big Corporations Don’t Pay Their Fair Share

American businesses face some serious challenges from taxes. But it’s not due to America’s tax rates, as many big business CEOs would have you believe. Our corporate tax problems stem from a corporate tax code with so many perks, credits and loopholes in it that many U.S. multinational corporations pay little to no taxes. This starves our national budget and imperils public education, innovative research and infrastructure, the sort of public investments that help make our businesses and economy competitive. And, maybe even worse, it’s unfair.

I’m an accountant. I know about taxes. I help my clients take advantage of the deductions and incentives to which they are entitled. But because of accounting tricks my clients cannot use, many giant U.S. corporations pay taxes at effective rates far lower than most small businesses and many middle class families. The average U.S. multinational corporation paid just 12.6 percent of its income in taxes in 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Some of the most unfair corporate tax loopholes for America’s competitive position in the world are the offshore tax loopholes. These loopholes alone cost the U.S. Treasury an estimated $90 billion a year. They also create an unfair playing field between domestic businesses like I serve in my practice, and the large multinational firms, whose high priced tax attorneys and lobbyists have devised ways to shift profits earned in the United States to the world’s tax haven countries where those profits are taxed lightly, if at all.

For instance, some software companies take patents on products developed in the U.S. and register them in a foreign tax haven. When a U.S. customer purchases the product, the company sends a large chunk of the purchase price to the tax haven to pay for the use of the patent. Thus the company reduces its effective corporate tax rate – sometimes even below 10 percent.

My clients don’t have this option. Nor would they want it. They are restaurants and dry cleaners, medical practices, small manufacturers and auto repair shops. They work hard and they expect to pay their fair share of taxes. They are the engines of our local economy, just as similar small companies are the engines of local economies across the country. They provide needed goods and services. They provide needed jobs. And they pay needed taxes.

Their taxes help pay for public investment in schools, roads, courts, public transit, public safety, public health – all of the basic infrastructure that enables all businesses to function and thrive. Since they benefit – as we all do – from those tax investments, it’s only fair that they should pay their share.

But their counterparts at large US multinationals don’t have to. And it’s the tax code that lets them. It’s as if the tax code pretends that they are operating in a third world country with no infrastructure to support. That’s ridiculous, of course. I’m good at accounting and bookkeeping, but I sure wouldn’t want a client trying to operate their entire business in a rural part of a third world country.

Our tax code should be fair and should encourage investment in our shared future. When we invest together we start a virtuous cycle of growth. But when people, whether individuals or business owners, think the tax system is rigged in favor of one group or another – say U.S. multinational companies using overseas tax havens – they rightly feel that they are paying more than their fair share. They lose faith in the system.

And when tax revenues are lower than they would be without such loopholes, policymakers look for ways to cut spending. This starts a vicious cycle of ever-shrinking economic activity and ever reducing tax revenue.

Fixing the tax code is the answer, and a good place to start is with the unfair overseas loopholes that undermine our faith in the tax system and rob our communities and the nation of vital investments in the future.

It makes no sense for our tax code to be hurting domestic job creators and undermining the tax base for our schools, roads, police and other vital services and infrastructure.

The tax reform America needs is one that closes many of the unfair loopholes won by big business lobbyists over the last three decades. We need the extra revenue collected to invest in the 21st century economy that will sustain our families, our communities and our businesses.

 

By: Brian Setzler, U. S. News and World Report, January 17, 201

January 22, 2014 Posted by | Big Business, Tax Loopholes | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“America’s Rich Hit The Jackpot”: The Year of the Great Redistribution

One of the worst epithets that can be leveled at a politician these days is to call him a “redistributionist.” Yet 2013 marked one of the biggest redistributions in recent American history. It was a redistribution upward, from average working people to the owners of America.

The stock market ended 2013 at an all-time high — giving stockholders their biggest annual gain in almost two decades. Most Americans didn’t share in those gains, however, because most people haven’t been able to save enough to invest in the stock market. More than two-thirds of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck.

Even if you include the value of IRA’s, most shares of stock are owned by the very wealthy. The richest 1 percent of Americans owns 35 percent of the value of American-owned shares. The richest 10 percent owns over 80 percent. So in the bull market of 2013, America’s rich hit the jackpot.

What does this have to do with redistribution? Some might argue the stock market is just a giant casino. Since it’s owned mostly by the wealthy, a rise in stock prices simply reflects a transfer of wealth from some of the rich (who cashed in their shares too early) to others of the rich (who bought shares early enough and held on to them long enough to reap the big gains).

But this neglects the fact that stock prices track corporate profits. The relationship isn’t exact, and price-earnings ratios move up and down in the short term. Yet over the slightly longer term, share prices do correlate with profits. And 2013 was a banner year for profits.

Where did those profits come from? Here’s where redistribution comes in. American corporations didn’t make most of their money from increased sales (although their foreign sales did increase). They made their big bucks mostly by reducing their costs — especially their biggest single cost: wages.

They push wages down because most workers no longer have any bargaining power when it comes to determining pay. The continuing high rate of unemployment — including a record number of long-term jobless, and a large number who have given up looking for work altogether — has allowed employers to set the terms.

For years, the bargaining power of American workers has also been eroding due to ever-more efficient means of outsourcing abroad, new computer software that can replace almost any routine job, and an ongoing shift of full-time to part-time and contract work. And unions have been decimated. In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers were members of labor unions. Now, fewer than 7 percent are unionized.

All this helps explain why corporate profits have been increasing throughout this recovery (they grew over 18 percent in 2013 alone) while wages have been dropping. Corporate earnings now represent the largest share of the gross domestic product — and wages the smallest share of GDP — than at any time since records have been kept.

Hence, the Great Redistribution.

Some might say this doesn’t really amount to a “redistribution” as we normally define that term, because government isn’t redistributing anything. By this view, the declining wages, higher profits, and the surging bull market simply reflect the workings of the free market.

But this overlooks the fact that government sets the rules of the game. Federal and state budgets have been cut, for example — thereby reducing overall demand and keeping unemployment higher than otherwise. Congress has repeatedly rejected tax incentives designed to encourage more hiring. States have adopted “right-to-work” laws that undercut unions. And so on.

If all this weren’t enough, the tax system is rigged in favor of the owners of wealth, and against people whose income comes from wages. Wealth is taxed at a lower rate than labor.

Capital gains, dividends, and debt all get favorable treatment in the tax code – which is why Mitt Romney, Warren Buffet, and other billionaires and multimillionaires continue to pay around 12 percent of their income in taxes each year, while most of the rest of us pay at least twice that rate.

Among the biggest winners are top executives and Wall Street traders whose year-end bonuses are tied to the stock market, and hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose special “carried interest” tax loophole allows their income to be treated as capital gains. The wild bull market of 2013 has given them all fabulous after-tax windfalls.

America has been redistributing upward for some time – after all, “trickle-down” economics turned out to be trickle up — but we outdid ourselves in 2013. At a time of record inequality and decreasing mobility, America conducted a Great Redistribution upward.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, January 4, 2014

January 6, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lifestyle Investments For The Rich And Famous”: When Charity Begins At Home, Particularly The Homes Of The Wealthy

It’s charity time, and not just because the holiday season reminds us to be charitable. As the tax year draws to a close, the charitable tax deduction beckons.

America’s wealthy are its largest beneficiaries. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $33 billion of last year’s $39 billion in total charitable deductions went to the richest 20 percent of Americans, of whom the richest 1 percent reaped the lion’s share.

The generosity of the super-rich is sometimes proffered as evidence they’re contributing as much to the nation’s well-being as they did decades ago when they paid a much larger share of their earnings in taxes. Think again.

Undoubtedly, super-rich family foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are doing a lot of good. Wealthy philanthropic giving is on the rise, paralleling the rise in super-rich giving that characterized the late nineteenth century, when magnates (some called them “robber barons”) like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller established philanthropic institutions that survive today.

But a large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces – operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters – where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors.

Another portion is for contributions to the elite prep schools and universities they once attended or want their children to attend. (Such institutions typically give preference in admissions, a kind of affirmative action, to applicants and “legacies” whose parents have been notably generous.)

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the rest of the Ivy League are worthy institutions, to be sure, but they’re not known for educating large numbers of poor young people. (The University of California at Berkeley, where I teach, has more poor students eligible for Pell Grants than the entire Ivy League put together.) And they’re less likely to graduate aspiring social workers and legal defense attorneys than aspiring investment bankers and corporate lawyers.

I’m all in favor of supporting fancy museums and elite schools, but face it: These aren’t really charities as most people understand the term. They’re often investments in the life-styles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well. Increasingly, being rich in America means not having to come across anyone who’s not.

They’re also investments in prestige – especially if they result in the family name engraved on a new wing of an art museum, symphony hall, or ivied dorm.

It’s their business how they donate their money, of course. But not entirely. As with all tax deductions, the government has to match the charitable deduction with additional tax revenues or spending cuts; otherwise, the budget deficit widens.

In economic terms, a tax deduction is exactly the same as government spending. Which means the government will, in effect, hand out $40 billion this year for “charity” that’s going largely to wealthy people who use much of it to enhance their lifestyles.

To put this in perspective, $40 billion is more than the federal government will spend this year on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (what’s left of welfare), school lunches for poor kids, and Head Start, put together.

Which raises the question of what the adjective “charitable” should mean. I can see why a taxpayer’s contribution to, say, the Salvation Army should be eligible for a charitable tax deduction. But why, exactly, should a contribution to the Guggenheim Museum or to Harvard Business School?

A while ago, New York’s Lincoln Center held a fund-raising gala supported by the charitable contributions of hedge fund industry leaders, some of whom take home $1 billion a year. I may be missing something but this doesn’t strike me as charity, either. Poor New Yorkers rarely attend concerts at Lincoln Center.

What portion of charitable giving actually goes to the poor? The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews looked into this, and the best he could come up with was a 2005 analysis by Google and Indiana University’s Center for Philanthropy showing that even under the most generous assumptions only about a third of “charitable” donations were targeted to helping the poor.

At a time in our nation’s history when the number of poor Americans continues to rise, when government doesn’t have the money to do what’s needed, and when America’s very rich are richer than ever, this doesn’t seem right.

If Congress ever gets around to revising the tax code, it might consider limiting the charitable deduction to real charities.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, December 12, 2013

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Welfare For The Rich”: What If The Outrage Over Excessive Welfare Extended To The Tax Code?

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has created quite a stir with his estimates that every household below the poverty level receives an average of $168-a-day (or about $61,000-a-year) in government welfare.

Sessions’ calculations are extremely controversial and overstate the amount of government assistance for those in poverty. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s right. How would $61,000 in direct government spending and refundable tax credits for the poor stack up against tax subsidies for the rich?

It isn’t even close. Indeed, my colleagues at the Tax Policy Center figure that in 2011 households making $1 million and up got that much in average tax benefits from just two deductions–for charitable gifts and state and local taxes. Add a fistful of other preferences–such as deductions for mortgage interest and exclusions such as the one for employer-sponsored health insurance– and top-bracket households got far more in tax benefits than the poor got in means-tested assistance.

These estimates exclude low tax rates on capital gains and dividends which are, arguably, very different from, say, subsidies for mortgage interest or employer-sponsored health insurance. If you include preferential rates on investment income, households making $1 million or more got an additional $119,000 in tax benefits, on average, in 2011.

Keep in mind that tax rates on ordinary income were relatively low in 2011. Now that the rate for high-income households has gone up significantly, their tax subsidies will be even more generous.

I readily admit that on one level, this is a fairly silly exercise. But there is an important point here: In much public discourse, direct government aid for the poor is easily dismissed by the pejorative “welfare.” Yet, spending-like subsidies administered through the revenue code provoke far less outrage. This is true even though many of these tax preferences are economically indistinguishable from direct spending and often add far more to the deficit.

Take housing, for instance. CBO figures that the lowest-income 20 percent of households get an average of about $1,100-a-year in means-tested rental housing assistance. TPC estimates that the lowest-income households got no benefit from tax deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes in 2011. But those in the top 20 percent, who make more than $100,000, got an average tax benefit of $2,900. Those in the top 1 percent, who make an average of $1.5 million, did even better. They got an average tax break of $5,700, more than five times the benefit the government provided low-income renters.

As with so much of the tax code, these homeowner tax benefits are upside down. On average, the more you make, the more you get. This seems an odd design in an era when fiscal restraint is all the rage. Yet politicians still recoil when tax expenditures—the vast bulk of which go to middle-class and high-income households—are described as subsidies.

In recent years, both Democrats and Republicans (including their recent presidential candidates) did talk about capping or limiting tax preferences for the highest income households. But so far, at least, that talk has come to nothing. It would be helpful if Sen. Sessions directed some of his outrage to the more than $1 trillion in tax expenditures that litter the revenue code—much of which go to those who need help the least.

 

By: Howard Gleckman, Tax Policy Center, February 26, 2013

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Tax Loopholes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Holiday Wish List For Congress”: Work In The Spirit Of The Season And Help Get The Country Back On Track

For many of us who give gifts at this time of year, the rituals put in perspective the differences between what we can afford, what we need, and what we want. Considering the nation is more than $16 trillion in debt and facing the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax hikes, lawmakers need to concentrate on doing just what is needed.

With that in mind, here’s my suggested holiday wish list for Congress:

For many of us who give gifts at this time of year, the rituals put in perspective the differences between what we can afford, what we need, and what we want. Considering the nation is more than $16 trillion in debt and facing the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic across-the-board spending cuts and tax hikes, lawmakers need to concentrate on doing just what is needed.

With that in mind, here’s my suggested holiday wish list for Congress:

1. Peace and harmony. We can’t afford for the ideological differences between the political parties to paralyze us. Make a short term deal to prevent us from going over the fiscal cliff and set up the 113th Congress to succeed where the 112th Congress fell short. Here’s a suggestion on how to do that.

2. Fund only the defense we need. Every year, the defense budget is full of weapons and programs someone in Congress wants but that the Pentagon doesn’t need or want. Leaders as diverse as former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright, and James Baker, along with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates say we can spend less on national security. And working with others, we at Taxpayers for Common Sense have provided a set of suggestions on where to cut defense spending.

3. Be good shepherd. The Farm Bill is one of the best examples of programs some people want, but we don’t need right now. It is hard to argue that with farm country seeing record profits the last few years we need to continue to provide massive crop insurance subsidies and other subsidy programs for farmers. What we absolutely don’t need is to have a trillion dollar farm bill shoe-horned into the last days of the 112th Congress.

4. Listen to the wise men—and women. In the last two years, wise men and women from former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles to former Sen. Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin have laid out plans for long term restructuring of our budget and reduction of our debt. It’s time to listen to those ideas and set the stage for solving our fiscal problems.

5. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The tax code is riddled with loopholes and breaks that total more than $1 trillion in forgone revenue every year. It’s time for lawmakers to give taxpayers the gift of flatter, simpler, and fairer tax code that eliminates most of the breaks and generates the revenue to fund the government we need.

We know that Congress will be back at work even as many of us are enjoying time off with our families and we hope that each and every one of them can work in the spirit of the season and help get the country on track for a brighter fiscal future. That’s what America needs.

 

By: Ryan Alexander, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, December 24, 2012

 

 

December 25, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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