The Obama administration unveiled its corporate tax reform plan last week, which would lower the top rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, billing it as an effort to help make the American corporate tax code more competitive. Republicans have long crowed for corporate tax reform, saying America’s high marginal rate stifles competition, but they have blocked efforts (including Obama’s) to close many of the loopholes and schemes corporations use to avoid paying taxes.
General Electric, one of the nation’s largest corporations, found itself at the center of the corporate tax debate last year when the New York Times discovered that it paid nothing in taxes, despite billions of dollars in profits. GE responded to the outcry by promising that its 2011 rate was “slated to return to more normal levels” because of the recovery of GE Capital, its financial arm. But according to an analysis from Citizens for Tax Justice, the company’s 2011 effective tax rate was just 11.3 percent. Even worse, over a 10-year period from 2002-2011, the company paid $1.9 billion in taxes on $81.2 billion in profits, giving it an effective tax rate of just 2.3 percent for the decade:
– From 2006 to 2011, GE’s net federal income taxes have been negative $2.7 billion, despite $39.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits over the six years.
– Over the past decade, GE’s effective federal income tax rate on its $81.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits has been at most 2.3 percent.
In the 10-year period CTJ examined, GE’s highest tax rate came in 2005, when it paid 27.5 percent, below the top tax rate in Obama’s reform plan. Four times in that stretch, its tax rates was negative, most notably in 2010, when the company received more than $3 billion in tax refunds, giving it an effective rate of negative 64.2 percent (click the image to make it larger):
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While GE is one of the worst offenders, it isn’t alone. The U.S. does indeed have one of the world’s highest marginal corporate tax rates, but the effective rate that corporations actually pay is much lower. In 2009, in fact, only Iceland had a lower effective rate, and only two countries collected less in revenue as a percent of GDP. As investor Warren Buffett noted on CNBC this morning, “It is a myth that American corporations are paying 35 percent or anything like it…Corporate taxes are not strangling American competitiveness.”