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Richest & Largest U.S. Corporations Paying Less and Less Taxes

New York Times 9/23/04
Study Finds Accelerating Drop in Corporate Taxes
By LYNNLEY BROWNING


America's largest and most profitable companies paid less in corporate
income taxes in the last three years, even as they increased profits,
according to a study released yesterday.

Companies have always used write-offs, depreciation, deductions and
loopholes to lower their taxes, but the study, by Citizens for Tax Justice
and its affiliate, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, suggested
that tax breaks and subsidies enacted during the Bush administration had
accelerated the decline in tax payments.

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The study also cited the proliferation of abusive tax shelters and
increasingly aggressive corporate lobbying as fueling the decline in tax
payments by corporations.

The study was done by nonprofit research and advocacy groups that have been
supported in part by labor unions. They contend that the tax system favors
wealthy corporations and individuals.

The study, Corporate Income Taxes in the Bush Years, surveyed public filings
by 275 of the nation's largest and most profitable companies, based on
revenue from the Fortune 500 list of 2004. The 275 companies reported pretax
profits from operations in the United States of $1.1 trillion from 2001
through 2003, the study said, yet reported to the Internal Revenue Service
and paid taxes on half that amount.

Robert S. McIntyre, the lead author of the study, wrote, "The fact that
America's companies were allowed to report less than half of their actual
U.S. profits to the I.R.S., while ordinary wage earners have to report every
penny of their earnings, has to undermine public respect for the tax
system."

The 275 companies surveyed include nearly all of the 2004 Fortune 500
companies that were profitable from 2001 through 2003. The list excluded
those that reported losses in any year, including General Motors and Ford;
certain companies whose finances were considered too opaque to decipher; and
about 25 companies to maintain a balance.

The study cited, among other things, tax breaks enacted in 2002 and 2003 as
prompting the decline in corporate payments. Such tax breaks, as used by the
275 companies, totaled more than $175 billion over the last three years,
including $71 billion last year, up from $43.4 billion in 2001. That
compares, roughly, with $98 billion in tax breaks for the top 250 profitable
companies over 1996 through 1998, according to a similar study by Citizens
for Tax Justice in 2000.

Not all experts agreed with the study's findings. William W. Beach, a tax
policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group in
Washington, said that even though the study surveyed the top 275 companies,
he did not find it "typical of corporate America," adding that smaller and
midsize businesses were "paying a lot in taxes."

According to the study, some 28 corporations paid no taxes from 2001 to
2003, despite having profits in the period of nearly $45 billion.

Industry sectors that paid the lowest taxes or no taxes included aerospace
and military, telecommunications, transportation, and industrial and farm
equipment.

The 2000 study found that from 1996 to 1998, 11 of the 250 largest and most
profitable companies paid no taxes, even though all reported profits. The
earlier study found that the 250 companies showed a 23.5 percent increase in
pretax profit, while the tax payments rose 7.7 percent.

The current study seemed to echo government data. Commerce Department
figures showed that pretax corporate profit rose 26 percent from 2001 to
2003 but that corporate tax payments fell 21 percent.

Corporate taxes as a share of the national economy are at their lowest
sustained level since World War II, the study said, and financed only 6
percent of government expenses in the last two fiscal years.

The current study found that nearly one in three companies, or 82, of the
275 examined paid no federal income tax in at least one year from 2001 to
2003, the period covered by the study. In the period, 82 companies had
pretax profit of $102 billion.

Last year, 46 of the 275 companies surveyed paid no federal income tax, up
from 42 companies in 2002 and 33 in 2001, according to the study. Over all,
the number of companies that paid no taxes increased 40 percent during the
period.

The current study attributed lower corporate payments in part to legislation
supported by President Bush and enacted by Congress in 2002 that increased
accelerated depreciation, an accounting move that allows profitable
companies to write off capital investments and claim tax deferrals.
Accelerated depreciation was intended in part to encourage capital
investment, but the study argued that it had done the opposite. Capital
investment by corporations dropped 12 percent in 2002 and 3 percent in 2003,
the years when Congress enacted the new accelerated depreciation rules.

As a result, Mr. McIntyre concluded, "the $175 billion in revenues lost to
the 2002- and 2003-enacted tax breaks appears to have been exceedingly
poorly spent."

Mr. Beach disagreed, saying that rates of capital investment were at
historic highs. "We're seeing an investment surge that's so strong that you
have to go back to the 1960's before you see a comparable one."