Tax Shell Game: The Taxpayer Cost of Offshore Corporate Tax Havens

Source: Nicole Tichon, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, April 2009

Many of the largest corporations in our country hide profits made in the United States in offshore shell companies and sham headquarters in order to avoid paying billions in federal taxes. The result is massive losses in revenue for the U.S. Treasury – which ultimately must be made up by taxpayers. The debt of a few is transferred to many – and to future generations. The U.S. Senate confirmed in the recently-passed fiscal year 2010 budget resolution that the use of offshore tax havens by large corporations “means that honest taxpayers face a higher burden.”

Key Findings
• The cost to taxpayers due to the use of offshore tax havens is as high as $100 billion per year – $1 trillion over 10 years. U.S.-based individuals and corporations who pay taxes on their revenues must shoulder this burden for those who do not.
• Taxpayers must shoulder the burden – U.S. PIRG Education Fund calculated each state’s taxpayer contribution proportional to their yearly federal contribution to make up for the $100 billion lost (See Figure 1).
• Our allies in other nations are also calling for decisive action to reign in these abusive tax havens. The Group of 20 (G-20), which provides a forum for world financial leaders to promote global economic stability, recently issued a communique providing for sanctions against tax haven countries.
• Last year, Congress overwhelmingly passed, and President George W. Bush signed, the Fair Share Act, which closed the tax loophole that had allowed private government contractors, including Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) to avoid paying almost $100 million a year in payroll taxes for its U.S. employees by setting up foreign subsidiaries. This law closed these loopholes for payroll taxes for companies applying for subsequent federal contracts.

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