Joseph Rotella and Dennis Van Roekel have an article at U.S. News and World Report that details more than $220 billion in tax subsidies given to some of the largest corporations in the world, allowing them to pay very low taxes even while earning record-breaking profits. And it’s hardly a coincidence that many of them pay more for lobbying than they do in taxes:
From 2008 to 2010, the 280 most profitable U.S. corporations sheltered half of their profits from taxes, thanks to tax subsidies totaling nearly $224 billion, according to a 2011 analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice. A dozen large companies, including Exxon-Mobil, Boeing, and General Electric, reaped $175 billion in profits, but their combined tax rate was negative 1.4 percent, thanks to $64 billion in subsidies from oil depletion allowances, write-offs from overseas profits, and other loopholes, according to the study.
These subsidies didn’t just come about by accident—at least 30 Fortune 500 firms pay their lobbyists more than they pay in taxes. Most small businesses can’t afford lobbyists, so it’s no surprise that the benefits of tax loopholes flow mainly to Wall Street, not Main Street.
Thanks to these loopholes, probably no major company pays the full federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent. The highest three-year average effective rate paid by any of the 12 large corporations in the Citizens for Tax Justice study was 14.2 percent—less than many middle class families.
That’s the kind of sweetheart deal most taxpayers—and most small businesses—can only dream about. We do, however, get to pick up the tab for these costly tax breaks. For starters, when corporations shirk billions of dollars in federal taxes, middle class taxpayers must bear more of the cost of national defense, healthcare, and other necessary programs.
In 1955, corporate taxes made up 27.3% of federal revenue; today, it’s 8.9%. In terms of the overall economy, corporate taxes were 4.3% of GDP in 1955 and only 1.3% now. Individual income and payroll taxes in 1955 were 58% of federal revenue; today it’s 81.5% (source for all these figures here). This is not a coincidence. The tax burden has been shifted enormously away from corporations and on to individuals. And the reason for this is the ability of corporations to spend billions of dollars on lobbyists and political contributions to get hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks (and trillions of dollars worth of favorable legislation — government contracts, loose or non-existent regulation, rent-seeking laws to lock competitors out of the market, etc).