On Monday, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a long-time member of the House Ways and Means Committee, releases a GAO report showing the continued advance of corporate tax expenditures that allow corporations to pay little or no taxes year after year.
“Of the many Americans who are right now getting their taxes ready to file, I doubt there are very many that think they will be able to pay a mere nickel on the dollar. But there are many of America’s largest corporations that continue lobbying the Administration, and this Congress to let them pay a nickel on the dollar in taxes on a significant portion of their earnings. Over a three-year period, 30 Fortune 500 companies devoted more of their monies to lobbying this Congress than they did in paying taxes to the Treasury. Some have a negative tax rate. Many of our largest corporations are paying effective rates that are single digits.
On Monday, he will again propose legislation to deal with the way corporations can so easily avoid tax liabilities in the US. A press release from Doggett's office lists the following pieces of legislation to be introduced:
- The Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act aims to close several different loopholes by deterring the use of tax havens for tax evasion and strengthening the enforcement of our tax laws. The bill would also require SEC-registered corporations to report annually on the number of employees, sales, financing, tax obligations, and tax payments on a country-by-country basis, shedding more light on the extent of use of tax havens. This bill also provides for additional penalties for failing to disclose offshore holdings and for promoting abusive tax shelters.
- The International Tax Competitiveness Act addresses a large and growing area of tax abuse: the practice of developing a trademark, patent, or copyright in the U.S. and then transferring that intellectual property abroad to avoid taxes on the vast income it generates. This bill would treat income from the U.S. intellectual property as U.S. income and tax it accordingly.
- The Fairness in International Taxation Act would end the current practice of treaty shopping to avoid U.S. taxes. The United States has tax treaties with a number of trading partners that reduce the amount of taxes that a U.S. based entity owes on interest and royalties paid to a foreign parent. Since many of these foreign parent companies are set up in tax havens, these companies now bypass U.S. taxes by routing the payment through a tax-treaty country that then just transfers the funds to the tax-haven parent. This bill would end that legal fiction and say that you only get the tax-treaty discount if the parent company is actually located in a tax-treaty country.
Doggett has tried to get Congress to act on corporate loopholes for more than a decade. The lobbying money has enormous influence. Just as in the gun control arena, where a majority of Americans want stronger gun controls but the manufacturer of weapons want lax provisions, most Americans think that corporations ought to pay a larger share of taxes but Congress is heavily influenced by lobbyists who wine and dine staffers and provide numerous purported "educational" briefings on what Big Business wants.
Each of these legislative proposals has merit. Of particular interest is the "international competitiveness" provision, which would finally make some inroads in corporations' ability to move intangible properties developed in the US into tax haven countries in order to eliminate taxes. We have for too long relied on an outdated transfer pricing mechanism for this kind of transfer. It doesn't work, since no company would ever actually sell intellectual property that is the core of the company's business. These cross-border transfers of IP are shams, and we should finally legislate to prevent this .