David Cay Johnston previously wrote “Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—and Cheat Everybody Else” and “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill).” His new book, “The Fine Print: How Big Companies use ‘Plain English’ to Rob You Blind,” is the Truthout Progressive Pick of the Week. You can obtain it here for a minimum donation, directly from Truthout. “Fine Print” explains how corporations bill consumers extra fees and keep money that should not be theirs, and legally. The following excerpt exposes how, in an increasing number of circumstances, corporations can keep worker deductions for state taxes.
Take a look at your pay stub. In all but six states, workers will see a deduction for state income taxes. You probably expect that money to finance public schools, the state university and college system, law enforcement and the other services that businesses and individuals rely on. Mostly it does, but in a growing number of states, your state income taxes will also be increasing the profits of your employer.
You read that right. Many employers in nineteen states can now keep state income taxes withheld from paychecks. General Electric, Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble have these deals, along with a host of foreign firms from the German computer maker Siemens to the Swedish appliance maker Electrolux and a host of Canadian, European and Japanese banks. In all more than 2,700 companies get to pocket the state income taxes withheld from some of their workers’ paychecks.
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In Illinois, for example, six big companies made deals with the state to pocket half or all of the state income taxes paid by their workers over ten years. Ford got a deal in 2007 by threatening to close an automobile assembly plant. In 2009, when the economy was in the worst shape in eight decades, Chrysler and Mitsubishi used threats of assembly plant closings to get similar deals.
In 2011, three more companies threatened to move out of Illinois. The state paid them off by letting them keep all the taxes withheld from their workers’ paychecks for ten years. The German tire maker Continental will pocket $22 million of its workers’ taxes, about a tenth of what it invested to modernize a tire plant in poverty-stricken southern Illinois, retaining 2,500 jobs and creating 444 more.
Navistar, maker of big diesel trucks for industry and the military, threatened to go to Alabama or maybe Iowa. In return for staying put, Navistar will pocket almost $65 million. The big winner, though, was Motorola Mobility, the cell phone maker. Just for promising not to move out of state and take three thousand jobs with it, Motorola gets to siphon $136 million from the paychecks of its
well-paid high-tech workers. As if to make this transaction all the more interesting, Motorola Mobility agreed to be acquired by Google soon after the state made the big tax deal. The Motorola board then paid its CEO, Sanjay Jha, to go away. He received $66 million. Thus, Illinois taxpayers underwrote his golden parachute, which amounted to roughly half the value of the worker taxes flowing to Google.
Google hardly needs a subsidy from Illinois taxpayers. It dominates the worldwide search engine and advertising business. Its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are each worth more than $15 billion. Monopoly profits are the key to such fortunes and oversize toys: at a Capitol Hill hearing in September 2011, Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin asked if Google was effectively a monopoly and Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, acknowledged, “We’re in that area.”
If you work for one of the above companies in Illinois, you probably have not heard that your employer is keeping the state taxes taken out of your check. The diversion is stealthy by design. No law requires the companies to notify the workers that state income taxes are being diverted. The state treats you as having paid your taxes even though it never got the money.
Excerpted from “The Fine Print: How Big Companies use ‘Plain English’ to Rob You Blind.” Published by Portfolio/Penguin. Copyright © David Cay Johnston, 2012.