There are a lot of corporate bad guys to point at in the new report Corporate Taxpayers & Corporate Tax Dodgers
(PDF). Out of 280 profitable Fortune
500 corporations the report examines, 30 paid a negative effective federal income tax rate between 2008 and 2010, while 67 paid less than 10 percent—nearly as many as the 71 that paid an effective rate of more than 30 percent, close to the official, if rarely observed, corporate income tax rate. Wells Fargo got nearly $18 billion in tax breaks over three years. AT&T got more than $14 billion. FedEx paid a 0.9 percent tax rate; Amazon paid 7.9 percent, a standout in a retail industry that on average pays close to 30 percent.
But it's not like these are renegade corporations somehow. They're maybe the most aggressive in a system that gives enormous preference to corporations over workers, and they're surely lobbying for more such preference. But if the nonpayment of taxes was limited to these 67 corporations, it would be both less of a problem to our economy and an easier problem to address. It's the system, though. The seven industrial machinery companies included in the study paid an effective negative tax rate: "–13.5 percent of their profits in federal income taxes." The financial industry paid a whopping-by-comparison 15.5 percent—but also took in the largest chunk of tax subsidies of any industry, accounting for 16.8 percent of subsidies. As the report asks, "does anyone think that financial companies need bailouts from the IRS, too?"
If the United States government "can't afford" to fix bridges or offer Pell Grants to college kids or food stamps to hungry people, look here (PDF) for the explanation:
Corporate taxes paid for more than a quarter of federal outlays in the 1950s and a fifth in the 1960s. They began to decline during the Nixon administration, yet even by the second half of the 1990s, corporate taxes still covered 11 percent of the cost of federal programs. But in fiscal 2010, corporate taxes paid for a mere 6 percent of the federal government’s expenses.
Just the 280 corporations in this study account for $223 billion in subsidies—money that should have been invested in our economy.
The report notes that "today corporate tax loopholes are so out of control that most Americans can rightfully complain, 'I pay more federal income taxes than General Electric, Boeing, DuPont, Wells Fargo, Verizon, etc., etc., all put together.'" If Warren Buffett shouldn't pay a lower tax rate than his secretary—and he's right, he shouldn't—it's certainly the case that Wells Fargo shouldn't pay a lower tax rate than me or you.