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Pennsylvania lawmakers got one step closer this week to closing major corporate tax loopholes.  Or did they?  The House Finance Committee approved legislation that would, in theory, close the infamous Delaware loophole which allows Pennsylvania companies to shift profits earned in the state to holding companies in other states (most frequently Delaware), thus avoiding paying their fair share of corporate income taxes.  However, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC), the bill as written not only fails to meet its intended goal, but it would in fact create new loopholes and drain the state of much needed revenue.  In PBPC’s words, “the bill is a sign that concern is growing about Pennsylvania’s corporate tax avoidance problem. It is a positive start – but in its current form, it is not a solution.”

House Democrats, led by Representative Phyllis Mundy, attempted but failed to amend the bill.  She advocated mandatory combined reporting, which makes it harder for companies to move profits around among subsidiaries, as a more effective and comprehensive approach to loophole closing, a proposal Mundy has been championing for the past year.

Pennsylvania is in dire need of a corporate tax overhaul.  A recent study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice, Corporate Tax Dodging in the Fifty States, looked at the state corporate income taxes paid (or not paid) by 265 major corporations between 2008 and 2010.  The 14 Pennsylvania based corporations in the study, including H.J. Heinz, Comcast and Hershey, paid very little or even negative state income taxes during the time period.  And, data from the state’s Department of Revenue shows that more than 70 percent of corporations operating in Pennsylvania paid no corporate income taxes in 2007, likely in large part to their ability to hide profits out of state. 

In an attempt to fill in data gaps and get a better picture of what corporations are and are not paying in state income taxes, the Keystone Research Center recently sent Pennsylvania’s 1,000 largest for-profit employers a corporate income tax disclosure survey.  The hope is that the companies will respond (it is voluntary) and lawmakers can use this information in their deliberations about the best means to prevent corporate tax avoidance.