In 2009, Exxon-Mobil didn’t pay any taxes, either, and last year, they had worldwide profits of $30.46 billion. Neither did Bank of America or Chevron or Boeing. According to a report from the office of the New York City Public Advocate, in 2009, the five companies, including GE, received a total of $3.7 billion in federal tax benefits.
Nothing is certain except for death and taxes, it used to be said; but in the madcap times we live in, even they’re up for grabs.
No matter what proof the White House provides that Osama bin Laden indeed has had his bucket kicked — and at this point, even al-Qaida admits he’s dead — there still will be uncertainty. Whether they ever release those damned photos or not, a lunatic few will continue to insist that Osama’s alive and well and running a Papa John’s Pizza in Marrakesh, Morocco.
As for taxes, having to pay them is no longer a sure thing, either –– especially if you’re a corporate giant like General Electric, with a thousand employees in its tax department, skilled in creative accounting. You’ll recall recent reports that though GE made profits last year of $5.1 billion in the United States and $14.2 billion worldwide, they would pay not a penny of federal income tax.
It gets worse. In 2009, Exxon-Mobil didn’t pay any taxes, either, and last year, they had worldwide profits of $30.46 billion. Neither did Bank of America or Chevron or Boeing. According to a report from the office of the New York City Public Advocate, in 2009, the five companies, including GE, received a total of $3.7 billion in federal tax benefits.
As The New York Times’ David Kocieniewski reported in March, “Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less … 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.”
What’s greasing the wheels for these advantages is –– hold on to your hats –– cash. Over the last decade, those same five companies — GE, Exxon-Mobil, Bank of America, Chevron and Boeing — gave more than $43.1 million to political campaigns. During the 2009-10 election cycle, the five spent a combined $7.86 million in campaign contributions, a 7 percent jump over their 2007-08 political spending.
Meanwhile, last week, Republicans like Utah’s Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, grabbed hold of an analysis by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and wrestled it to the ground.
The brief memorandum reported that, in the 2009 tax year, 51 percent of all American taxpayers had zero tax liability or received a refund. So why, the Republicans asked, are Democrats and others so mean, asking corporations and the rich to pay higher taxes when lots of other people — especially the poor and middle class — don’t pay taxes, either?
This flies in the face of reality. As Travis Waldron of the progressive ThinkProgress website explained, “The majority of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes don’t make enough money to qualify for even the lowest tax bracket, a problem made worse by the economic recession. That includes retired Americans, who don’t pay income taxes because they earn very little income, if they earn any at all.
“And while many low-income Americans don’t pay income taxes, they do pay taxes. Because of payroll and sales taxes — a large proportion of which are paid by low- and middle-income Americans — less than a quarter of the nation’s households don’t contribute to federal tax receipts — and the majority of the non-contributors are students, the elderly or the unemployed.”
What’s more, ThinkProgress notes, “The top 400 taxpayers — who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined — are paying lower taxes than they have in a generation, as their tax responsibilities have slowly collapsed since the New Deal era.” In the meantime, “working families have been asked to pay more and more.”
So maybe death and taxes are no longer certain, but one thing remains as immutable as the hills. In the words of another golden oldie, there’s nothing surer: The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.
Michael Winship, a native of Canandaigua, N.Y., is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and the former senior writer of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS.