As Washington worries about the United States' growing deficit problem, there's mounting evidence the government is failing to collect taxes from wealthy individuals and corporations. A piece in today's New York Times by David Kocieniewski outlines how G.E. skirted paying any taxes on $5.1 billion in profits in 2010--in addition to claiming a $3.2 billion tax credit.
The main reason G.E. is so adept at avoiding paying taxes, Kocieniewski writes, is because it's compiled an all-star team of in-house tax professionals plucked from the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department, and "virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress."
G.E.-- whose slogan is "Imagination at Work"-- has in-house, Kocieniewski writes, what is considered by many to be the best tax law firm in the world. Their secret to success is a familiar one, though G.E. appears to have perfected it: "fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore."
In a regulatory filing just a week before the Japanese disaster put a spotlight on the company's nuclear reactor business, G.E. reported that its tax burden was 7.4 percent of its American profits, about a third of the average reported by other American multinationals. Even those figures are overstated, because they include taxes that will be paid only if the company brings its overseas profits back to the United States. With those profits still offshore, G.E. is effectively getting money back.
Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation's tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.
In an interesting twist, President Obama recently asked G.E. CEO Jeffrey Immelt to be his chief outside economic adviser, and the company recently came under fire for being the manufacturer of the faulty reactors that sparked Japan's nuclear crisis in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
(Photo: Paul Sakuma/AP)