Corporate Tax Avoidance in the First Year of the Trump Tax Law

ITEP’s examination of Fortune 500 companies’ financial filings identifies 379 companies that were profitable in 2018 and that provided enough information to calculate effective federal income tax rates, which is the share of 2018 pretax profits they paid in federal income taxes in that year. For most of these companies, their effective federal income tax rate was much lower than the statutory corporate tax rate of 21 percent. This is by design.

When drafting the tax law, lawmakers could have eliminated special breaks and loopholes in the corporate tax to offset the cost of reducing the statutory rate. Instead, the new law introduced many new breaks and loopholes, though it eliminated some old ones. The unsurprising result: Profitable American corporations in 2018 collectively paid an average effective federal income tax rate of 11.3 percent on their 2018 income, barely more than half the 21 percent statutory tax rate.

Key Findings:

The 379 profitable corporations identified in this study paid an effective federal income tax rate of 11.3 percent on their 2018 income, slightly more than half the statutory 21 percent tax

91 corporations did not pay federal income taxes on their 2018 U.S. income. These corporations include Amazon, Chevron, Halliburton and IBM. An ITEP study released in April 2019 examined 2018 Fortune 500 filings released to date and found 60 companies paid zero in federal income taxes. Now, all companies have released their 2018 financial filings, and this report reflects that.

Another 56 companies paid effective tax rates between 0 percent and 5 percent on their 2018 income. Their average effective tax rate was 2.2 percent.

Corporate Tax Avoidance in the First Year of the Trump Tax Law
ITEP, December 16, 2019

What the GOP is Really Thinking

It’s become increasingly clear who GOP leaders are drafting legislation for as they hurriedly rush to re-write the tax code before the new year.

New York Rep Chris Collins said on Nov. 7, 2017, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.'”

Donald Trump told members of the elite 21 Club in Manhattan on Nov. 15, 2016, “We’ll get your taxes down, don’t worry about it.”

And Gary Cohn, the White House economic advisor said on Nov. 9, 2017, “The most excited group out there are the big CEO’s about our tax plan.”

But even more damning are the comments made by senior lawmakers who showed their disdain for those the plan hurts the most. Senator Orrin Hatch, speaking about health care for children said,

“I have a rough time spending billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”

Finally, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley justified the bills clear preference for the wealthiest 1% by arguing that they are the ones actually investing, unlike those who, “are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Thankfully, the public isn’t buying what they’re selling. By a margin of two to one, Americans opposes the GOP tax plan. Now these lawmakers need to realize they are accountable to the voters, and not those writing the checks.

 

The Great Tax Heist

The Senate just passed (by two votes) a budget that clears the way for $6 trillion in cuts from critical services and $1.5 trillion in tax cuts. Their arguments for the tax plan they have proposed center around one core argument: That lowering the corporate tax rate will somehow benefit working families. This has been proven by independent analyses and history to be patently FALSE. We call the whole thing magic math. This video breaks it down.

The tax plan they are proposing is a massive giveaway for corporations and the wealthiest 1%, paid for by working and middle class families. But that’s not what you’ll hear Trump and GOP leaders say publicly. Their public spin centers around what we like to call MAGIC MATH. This concept (that somehow cutting the corporate tax rate will give working people better jobs) has been proven by independent analyses (not to mention history) FALSE. And we’re not fooled by their tricks.

This video breaks that “magic math” down. Enjoy!

If this “magic math” makes you you as mad as it does us, won’t you consider spending a few minutes to call Congress and let them know you aren’t fooled by their tricks?

Fact v. Myth

Lawmakers and an army of well-financed special interests have embarked on a campaign to convince the public that supply-side tax cuts will benefit the middle-class. But the American people know better: 24 percent of Americans think the wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes, and just 19 percent of Americans think corporations are paying their fair share of taxes (Source: Gallup). In this series, we challenge myths about the nation’s tax system.

MYTH: The corporate tax rate is too high

Data from the OECD show that U.S. corporate taxes as a percentage of GDP are 2.2 percent, which is substantially less than the 2.9 percent weighted average among the 34 other OECD countries for which data were available. For a full list of countries and their GDP, view this ITEP report.

A comprehensive study examined the average effective tax rate paid by profitable Fortune 500 companies over an eight-year period.  A substantial number of firms had years in which they were profitable but paid either nothing in federal taxes or single-digit tax rates. The average effective rate paid by profitable U.S. corporations from 2008 to 2015 was 21.4 percent. The 35 Percent Corporate Tax Myth has more detailed information.

Fortune 500 companies are collectively holding $2.6 trillion offshore and avoiding up to $767 billion in U.S. taxes. Many of these companies acknowledge paying tax rates of 10 percent or less on their offshore profits, indicating they likely are using accounting tricks to shift profits into tax haven countries to avoid U.S. taxes. Read more about corporations’ offshore profits.

Congressional hearings over the past few years have raised awareness of the offshore tax avoidance strategies of major technology corporations, but tech firms are not alone: hundreds of companies shift profits offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. Companies with the biggest offshore cash hoards include major household names such as Apple, Microsoft, GE and Pfizer. Read more

Corporate tax loopholes have allowed 18 profitable corporations to altogether avoid tax over multiple years. In fact, not only have these corporations not paid tax form 2008 to 2015, some of them received federal tax refunds. Read more