The Obama administration is proposing to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent (25 percent for manufacturing), close scores of loopholes that currently reduce the effective tax rate, put a minimum tax on foreign profits and simplify tax filing for small businesses. You can be certain of two things: Republicans and many corporate mouthpieces will say the cut doesn’t go deep enough; and, when the nitty-gritty is dealt with in the congressional committees that will review it, expect a major drive to lower the rates and keep at least some of the loopholes. Because when it comes to tax rates on corporate profits (and high-income individuals), the right believes they can never be low enough.
The proposal also keeps credits for research, development and production of electricity from renewable sources. The goal is to spur investment in wind, solar and geothermal power. One of those credits, the production tax credit, expires in December.
It being an election year, the chances that any proposal will wind up on the president’s desk before 2013 is small. John Hudson at Atlantic Wire says it’s “sensible” but bound to fail. But the issue is also bound to be part of the debates once the Republicans settle on a presidential nominee. The White House proposal—the culmination of two years’ work—will certainly serve to undercut any GOP attempt to say the administration is doing nothing to deal with what people across the political spectrum agree is an antiquated corporate tax system riddled with often inefficient breaks, most of which are taken by the largest companies.
As has been widely reported for years, the effective (read: actual) corporate tax rate is far lower than the 35 percent headline rate that gets all the bad press. Last year, Citizens for Tax Justice reported on the 280 most profitable Fortune 500 companies. Findings? Thanks to tax breaks and subsidies, the average effective tax rate over the three-year 2008-2010 period was 18.5 percent and the companies enjoyed subsidies of $ 222.7 billion. During at least one of the three years, 78 highly profitable companies paid zero taxes and 30 actually had a negative tax rate.
But that’s not the worst of it. In 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the effective corporate tax rate fell to 12.1 percent, the lowest level in 40 years. This comes at time when corporate profits are at a 60-year high.
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