Companies paid an average effective federal tax rate of 12.6 percent in 2010, the last time the Government Accountability Office measured the rate. That compares with the nominal federal tax rate of 35 percent, so all those accountants appear to have done their jobs in exploiting the loopholes in our tax code.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, proposed a vast reform of our tax code this year, eliminating a lot of the Swiss cheese that makes it so porous and, arguably, unfair. Mr. Camp’s proposal, as you might imagine, isn’t gaining a lot of traction.
In recognition of Uncle Sam’s payday, it’s only proper to take note of some of the most egregious corporate tax loopholes and some unexpected beneficiaries.
■ For the last seven years, a debate has raged over the “carried interest” benefit taken by private equity and hedge fund executives. Instead of paying ordinary rates on much of their income — typically 35 percent for the highest bracket (39.6 percent for this tax year) — these executives pay the capital gains rate of 15 percent. It’s a clear loophole that is plainly unfair. Despite repeated efforts to repeal it, the loophole has remained, in part because of well-financed industry lobbying in Washington.
■ If individual taxpayers are arrested, admit guilt and reach a civil settlement with the government, they cannot deduct the costs from their returns. But amazingly, a company is allowed to claim those costs as a business expense. JPMorgan Chase, for example, which has agreed to pay billions of dollars in fines for various transgressions, can deduct a large portion — and all the legal expenses — from its taxes.
■ A tiny but symbolic loophole still persists. Companies that own aircraft can depreciate their planes more quickly than airlines — over five years instead of seven — and claim the deduction. In total, closing the loophole is worth $3 billion to $4 billion over a decade.
■ A much larger loophole involves the deduction of executive stock options by the company issuing them. Inexplicably, many of Silicon Valley’s newest star companies will be able to shelter a large portion of their profits as a result. Citizens for Tax Justice estimated late last year that a dozen technology companies, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Priceline, “stand to eliminate all income taxes on the next $11.4 billion they earn — giving these companies $4 billion in tax cuts.””
The New York Times, "Looking at Some Corporate Tax Loopholes Ordinary Citizens May Envy."