We retired Tax Justice Blog in April 2017. For new content on issues related to tax justice, go to www.justtaxesblog.org
Last summer, Indiana-based Carrier Corp. incurred bipartisan wrath after announcing it would move 2,100 jobs to Mexico in 2017. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that representatives of President-elect Trump’s incoming administration are engaging in “wide-ranging policy talks” with executives of United Technologies Corporation (UTC), Carrier’s parent company, with a focus on reducing its federal corporate income tax rate.
Trump has pledged repeatedly to keep UTC and Carrier from offshoring jobs, and it now appears that UTC may want a lower tax rate as the price for complying with this demand. Saving middle-class jobs is an important and laudable goal. But policymakers should approach such consequential discussions with all the facts. And the fact is that Carrier’s parent company already pays a relatively low effective tax rate.
As we previously noted, UTC does not have a lot of skin in the game when it comes to federal income taxes. The company paid an effective federal tax rate averaging just 10.3 percent over the 15-year period (PDF of full tax calculation) between 2001 and 2015. UTC’s 2015 annual report shows the company paid a federal tax rate of just 9.4 percent on $2.8 billion in U.S. profits last year. This means year after year, the profitable company pays only a fraction of the federal statutory rate of 35 percent.
The company’s push for a corporate tax cut likely has a lot to do with its offshore cash. As of 2015, UTC had a cumulative $29 billion in profits stashed offshore that it claimed it earned abroad and has no intention of repatriating to the United States. The profits, if repatriated, would be subject to the federal corporate tax rate less any taxes it paid to foreign governments.
It’s impossible to know how much of this offshore cash is in the hands of the company’s zero-tax haven subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands because UTC refuses to disclose this information. (The limited disclosures that have been made by other corporations with offshore cash show these companies are paying single digit tax rates on their foreign profits.) But it seems plausible that when the company warns of “adverse tax consequences” of repatriating from “certain of our subsidiaries,” it has its Caribbean affiliates in mind.
The United States is one of the world’s most advanced democracies, which our federal tax system enables. Infrastructure, public education, health and safety, clean water, safe food, and national defense all require tax dollars—from citizens and corporations. The Unites States simply cannot compete with a zero-percent tax rate, nor should it try.
A company like Carrier, which may be accustomed to stashing money in the Cayman Islands and paying a zero-percent tax rate, certainly would consider the U.S. federal statutory rate “adverse.” But given UTC’s consistent ability to avoid that tax rate over the past 15 years, it’s hard to see why Congress or the incoming Trump administration should prioritize finding a way to cut the company’s taxes even further.
Correction: The original blog post misindentified the time period of our 15 year calculation as 2000-2014, rather than 2001-2015.