Sunday, May 8, 2011

Big biz doesn’t pay fair share

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By Mark McCutchan

During budget debate March 30, U.S. Republican senators were pressing for steep cuts to Head Start programs for children, home-heating assistance for the poor, and food for low-income women and their children through WIC. Allegedly these reductions are necessary to reduce the federal deficit, but they are really being pushed to satisfy the GOP social conservative agenda.

Bernie Sanders, Vermont's junior senator, made a blistering speech in response, excoriating some of America's largest corporations for their tax-avoidance schemes.

"Maybe we have to reduce that deficit not simply on the backs of working families, low-income people, the children, the sick, the elderly. Maybe, maybe we might want to call for shared sacrifice. Maybe Exxon-Mobil and some of the large oil companies might be asked to pay something in taxes."

Below are Sen. Sanders' 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders:

1) Exxon Mobil Made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes; it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America Received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) General Electric Over the past five years made $26 billion in profits in the U.S.; it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron Received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing Received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers; got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy The 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs In 2008 paid only 1.1 percent of its income in taxes, even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup Last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips The fifth largest oil company in the U.S. made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Carnival Cruise Lines Over the past five years, made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

How can corporations get away with this, when I would be audited for claiming one too many exemptions, you say? In his speech, Sen. Sanders implied powerful corporate lobbyists on Capitol Hill have convinced lawmakers to insert tax code loopholes, through verbal and financial persuasion.

According to a 2008 GAO report, between 1998 and 2005 an annual average of 1.3 million U.S. companies and 39,000 foreign companies doing business in the U.S. paid no income taxes despite having a combined $2.5 trillion in revenue. The GAO said corporations escaped paying federal income taxes for a variety of reasons including operating losses, tax credits, and an ability to use transactions within the company to shift income to low-tax countries and losses to high-tax countries. These strategies have allowed companies to reduce their taxes from a high of 6 percent of GDP in 1952 to just 1 percent today.

Now is the time for corporate tax reform, to help balance the budget and ensure corporations pay their fair share.

A fair corporate tax reform proposal should:

Contribute to long-term deficit reduction

Reduce the tax code's bias towards debt financing

Reduce the tax code's bias toward overseas investments

Improve economic efficiency by reducing special preferences

Provide more neutral treatment of corporate and non-corporate businesses

Take specific steps to discourage tax sheltering

How can we make companies pay their fair share?

Work to implement "clean elections" ( to publicly fund our federal elections, and reduce the malignant effect that corporations have on lawmakers through campaign donations. Public financing of campaigns may sound pricey, but it is certainly less expensive than letting corporations continue to run our democracy.

Learn about and join the efforts of U.S. Uncut (, a grassroots movement taking direct action against corporate tax cheats like Bank of America, Verizon, FedEx, and GE. The next event is a "Tax Weekend of Action" April 15-18.

Write to President Obama, our congressional representatives, and spread the word about how corporate tax cheats are contributing to our federal budget crisis, and demand that our officials make corporations pay their fair share.

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