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Less than a month ago, Florida Governor Rick Scott was still pushing his campaign proposal to repeal the state’s corporate income tax. Yet his “Tea Party”-inspired promise never lit a fire under the Republican leadership in the state legislature. Republican Senate president Mike Haridopolos even noted that “I’m in my 11th session now and I’ve had very few people come to me and say the reason they didn’t come to Florida was because of the corporate tax rate.”
An Orlando Sentinel article by Scott Maxwell suggests one sensible reason why the otherwise-anti-tax GOP leadership couldn’t get behind this idea: hardly anyone is paying the corporate tax to begin with.
Maxwell requested unpublished data from Florida’s Department of Revenue on the number of companies that paid any corporate tax in the last decade, and found that in fiscal year 2010 just 24,112 companies paid even a dime of corporate tax. Since 218,000 companies filed corporate income tax returns in the state of Florida in that year, this means just over 10 percent of companies filing returns actually owed any tax.
It’s important to recognize that there can be perfectly good reasons for this. Many of the 218,000 companies were likely unprofitable in 2010, which means they have no income to tax. But it’s also likely that many of these no-tax corporations were quite profitable in reality, and managed to reduce their Florida taxable income to zero by artificially shifting profits to other states.
As a 2009 report from the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy notes, Florida lawmakers interested in fixing this problem could productively enact “combined reporting” along with a number of other reforms to make the corporate tax fairer and more sustainable.
But in the short-run, the most sensible reform option for Florida lawmakers might be to enact legislation mandating basic disclosure of which profitable companies pay no income tax, which tax breaks they use to achieve this result, and how many Florida-based jobs were created as a result of these tax breaks.
And one important lesson for advocates seeking to inform corporate tax reform debates in other states is that sometimes the only way to get this vital data is to ask state government officials, as Maxwell did.