Some Corporations Are Moving Addresses Overseas To Dodge Paying Fair Share Of U.S. Taxes
We talk a lot about the grave problem of inequality and how our economy is not working for most Americans. One of the causes of this big problem is that corporations and the wealthiest are taking advantage of the system, exploiting tax loopholes, and rigging the game to benefit themselves, often at the expense of everyone else. The latest tax-dodging tactic that some corporations are considering using is a perfect example of this rigged system–and demonstrates why we need our legislators to take decisive action to stop it.
What Is The Problem?
A loophole in the tax code essentially allows a corporation to renounce its corporate citizenship in the United States, move its address overseas by merging with a foreign company, and dodge its U.S tax obligations by paying most of its taxes to a foreign government with lower tax rates than the U.S. The process takes place primarily on paper — most corporate operations remain here. The corporations that do this want all the benefits of being an American company without paying their fair share of taxes. That makes the rest of us pick up the tab.
The practice has become known as “inversion.” But what it really amounts to is desertion. And it could cost Americans tens of billions of dollars.
Who Is Taking Advantage?
There are 47 firms in the last decade that have exploited this loophole, according to new data compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. But it’s a hot topic again because at least a dozen U.S. firms are currently considering taking advantage of it.
One of those corporations is Walgreen. The company has always prided itself on being America’s go-to pharmacy: from 1993 to 2006, it had the slogans “The Pharmacy America Trusts” and “The Brand America Trusts.” A biography of the company is entitled, “America’s Corner Store: Walgreen’s Prescription For Success.” Walgreen chief executive Gregory D. Wasson has said the company is “proud of our Illinois heritage.”
At the same time, Walgreen is currently considering merging with European drugstore chain Alliance Boots and move to Switzerland as part of a plan to dodge up to $4 billion in U.S taxes. The company that gets almost a quarter of its $72 billion in revenue directly from the government through Medicare and Medicaid is trying to reap even more profits while leaving taxpayers holding the bag.
Walgreen isn’t the only one. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, tried merging with the smaller U.K.-based AstraZeneca earlier this year and switch its address, where the tax rate is lower. It was estimated the move would save them at least $1 billion a year in tax obligations to the U.S. (the deal ultimately didn’t go through). Medtronic, a medical device company, plans to move its corporate address to Ireland, a tax haven, to avoid paying U.S. taxes on $14 billion. Chiquita, the banana distributor, is also heading to Ireland after acquiring Fyffes. These tax dodges, as Fortune magazine calls them in this week’s issue, are “positively un-American.”
What Can Be Done?
President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget proposes making these corporate desertions more difficult by raising the minimum levels of foreign ownership required to 50 percent (currently it is just 20 percent), which means that U.S. corporations could not move their address abroad unless they actually ceded a controlling interest to foreign owners. Congressional Democrats have made similar proposals. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently called for more “economic patriotism” and urged Congress to “enact legislation immediately” to close the loophole. Leaders on both sides of the aisle want comprehensive tax reform, but finding common ground in the current Congress could take a while. The simple fact is that as more and more companies exploit this loophole, a solution for this problem is needed right away–and Congress has the power the solve it.
BOTTOM LINE: More and more corporations are taking advantage of a tax loophole that helps their bottom line while costing American taxpayers billions every year. These companies want to continue to take advantage of the things that make the U.S. the best place in the world to do business, while at the same time pay less than their fair share by moving their corporate addresses overseas. That desertion is unfair, unpatriotic, and has got to change.