Anyone who has read a little Shakespeare knows that it was the Ides of March when Julius Caesar had that one bad day. But for most of us Americans, it’s the Ides of April, the 15th that is, that brings us pain. That is, of course, when our income taxes are due, and when all that most of us can hope for is to get back some portion of what we put in over the course of the year. We have our deductions, of course; indeed, it is perhaps the only time when those kids might actually save us some money.
But even though our current Supreme Court seems to think that corporations are the same as people, that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to paying taxes.
Take Exxon Mobil for example. This past year the company earned a sizable $19.42 billion in profit, down from $45 billion the year before, but still more than any other corporation in the world.
The company paid a lot of taxes for 2008, $17.6 billion, in fact, or 47% of its pre-tax earnings. But, according to Mother Jones, none of it went to the IRS.
The Sierra Club posted a short video on the occasion of tax day, in which it notes, “It’s time to end US tax breaks and subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.”
According to Forbes, “Exxon tries to limit the tax pain with the help of 20 wholly owned subsidiaries domiciled in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that (legally) shelter the cash flow from operations in the likes of Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi. Exxon has tens of billions in earnings permanently reinvested overseas.”
According to USPIRG, such machinations as these, as practiced by numerous corporations, results in approximately $100 billion of tax burden being shifted onto the shoulders of individual tax payers. That would average out to around $700 per taxpayer.
But Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, in a response to Mother Jones, said that it “expect(s) a significant U.S. federal income tax liability for 2009, although our tax return will not be filed until later this year.”
When asked how big, Jeffers replied, “We don’t disclose our tax bill; we’re not required to.”
The company has a page on its website that describes how much taxes it pays. It also complains about the burden. Bring your own handkerchief. The company also takes this opportunity to raise the specter of higher prices and reduced supply to bring us all into line.
The Forbes article describes how many corporations use legal loopholes to reduce their effective tax to something significantly less than what we pay as individuals.
The most glaring example, it turns out, is GE. It generated $10.1 billion in pretax revenue, but ended up not only paying no taxes, but gaining a $1.1 billion tax benefit. How did it do it? More shenanigans—all legal of course, something to do with using GE Capital to take huge write-offs.
But this is GE, the company that is often listed as the #1 most sustainable company in America. It kind of makes you want to say, “Et tu Brute?”