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Robert McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, testified on March 9 before the Senate Budget Committee on tax subsidies for businesses. He explained that these tax breaks for business (1) are hugely expensive, (2) are often economically harmful, and (3) conflict with fundamental tax fairness.

Eliminating or reducing these tax subsidies can result in revenue that would help us address our long-term budget crisis. McIntyre said that “President Obama is seriously off track in proposing to devote all the savings that can be gained from curbing business tax subsidies not to deficit reduction, but rather to lowering the statutory corporate tax rate.”

Here’s an excerpt of the testimony:

…Today is the first day of Lent, and I’d like to suggest that members of Congress consider giving something up, not just until Easter, but perhaps until the federal budget is balanced (and even thereafter). What I hope you’ll give up is your enthusiasm for providing subsidies to those who don’t need them, in  particular, for business subsidies administered by what seems to have become Congress’s favorite agency, the Internal Revenue Service.

A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan took on business tax subsidies in the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Among other things, Reagan’s tax act curbed offshore corporate profit shifting, leasing tax shelters and numerous industry-specific tax breaks, and despite a reduction in the statutory corporate tax rate, increased corporate tax payments by 34 percent. Reagan also equalized the personal income tax treatment of wages and realized capital gains, and he made the tax system more progressive overall.

But lobbyists for corporations and wealthy individuals didn’t give up after 1986. They worked hard to regain and expand the tax subsidies that Reagan had taken away. In the 1990s, the lobbyists persuaded the Clinton administration and the Congress to eviscerate the corporate Alternative Minimum Tax (designed to curb the huge tax advantages that go to highly-leveraged activities such as equipment leasing), adopt the so-called “check the box” and “active-financing” rules that vastly expanded offshore corporate tax-sheltering opportunities, and reestablish preferential tax rates on realized capital gains. During the George W. Bush administration, business and investment tax breaks were expanded considerably further. Both political parties are at fault in this sad repudiation of President Reagan’s tax legacy.

By the early 2000s, corporate subsidies had risen so much that the average effective U.S. federal corporate tax rate paid by America’s largest and most profitable corporations on their U.S. profits had fallen to only 18.4 percent — barely over half the 35 percent statutory rate. Those tax subsidies have grown even larger since then.

Our complaints about business tax subsidies fall into three categories. (1) They are hugely expensive. (2) They are often economically harmful. And (3) they conflict with fundamental tax fairness…

Read the full testimony