Trump has argued that a lower tax burden will help the economy, but a new study argues reducing the corporate tax rate is unnecessary and costly
Donald Trump’s plans to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% will are unlikely to create the promised boom in jobs, according to a new report from the non-partisan Institute on Tax and Economic Policy.
Trump and Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, have been pushing hard for the plan. The president travels to Missouri on Wednesday to promote the plan and Ryan has taken to the road to venues including Boeing’s headquarters, where Ryan pledged to make the cuts by the end of the year
But the Washington thinktank found that the cuts were unlikely to work . The study looked at 92 publicly-traded corporations that reported consistent profitability between 2008 and 2015, and found that they already benefitted from low effective tax rates, paying less than 20% of that net income to the federal government in tax.
Ryan and Trump have argued that a lower tax burden will help create more jobs, but the study argues that these companies are already paying the lower level of taxes and have not created more jobs. In fact, while the total rate of job creation among the US private sector as a whole was 6%, these 92 companies saw a 1% decline in employment. They are creating jobs at a slower rate than the economy, in spite of having precisely this “Goldilocks” tax rate.
The Institute on Tax and Economic Policystudied 258 consistently profitable Fortune 500 companies and found that their effective tax rate was 21.2%. In at least one year, 100 paid paid no tax at all. From 2008 until 2015, 30 companies paid an effective rate of 6.9%, and eight paid almost nothing. Those in specific industries (retailing) fared significantly worse than others (utilities), while some companies (McDonald’s) paid vastly more than their rivals. It’s fair to say that the corporate tax code is a mess.
The studies suggest that the tax rate is not tied to job creation. While researchers at the Institute for Policy Studies didn’t study the fate of tax savings on a dollar-for-dollar basis, “we realized that that these companies had huge sums of money that were going into stock buybacks,” says Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the institute and the report’s author.
She and her colleagues calculated, based on publicly disclosed data, that the 10 companies that cut the most jobs each spent $45bn over the last nine years to repurchase their stock. That reduces the number of shares outstanding, increasing the earnings per share calculation and thus the value of each individual share. Theoretically, the stock market should recognize this by sending the stock price higher. Clearly, the beneficiaries were shareholders, rather than employees or potential employees.
The report’s authors also discovered that companies with lower-than-average tax rates rewarded their CEOs with higher than average paychecks and raises. The average CEO of these 92 firms saw his or her pay rise 18% between 2008 and 2016, while that of those in all companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 13%. (The average employee, meanwhile, got a 4% wage hike between 2008 and 2016.) The better they did at cutting jobs, the higher the CEO’s earning power, the Institute for Policy Studies calculated. The 48 CEOs who eliminated the most jobs earned an average of $14.9m, 14% more than the average CEO.
Boeing is the beneficiary of one of the biggest tax breaks ever seen in the country’s history, a deal it struck with the state of Washington after threatening to build its new plant outside the state. Meanwhile, its average federal tax rate over the last 10 years has been only 3.2%, and it paid only 23% – by its own calculation – last year.
Shortly after the deal with the state – which failed to insist on employment guarantees – was brokered, Boeing began to announce massive job cuts, arguing it needs to rely more on automation in order to compete with Airbus. More than 15% of its Washington workforce has been laid off since the big state tax deal was announced in 2013.