Another Study Confirms U.S. Corporations Pay High Effective Tax Rate

October 22, 2013

Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) grabbed headlines by claiming that U.S. corporations pay an effective tax rate of 12.6 percent. This made headlines precisely because it is less than half the rate found by most studies. We pointed out the many flaws with GAO’s analysis, including the failure to properly account for foreign taxes on foreign income and losses carried forward and back following the financial crisis. Now, Andrew Lyon of PWC (in an article for Tax Analysts) has done the calculations correctly using the same data that GAO used, and he finds the U.S. corporate effective tax rate on worldwide income is above 35 percent:

Effective tax rates calculated from Schedule M-3 data offer a unique ability to relate federal income tax payments to the book income of the same entities. However, timing differences between book income and taxable income can make a single year’s analysis unrepresentative of the actual long-term effective tax rates of corporations. Further, the asymmetric treatment of companies with financial statement losses — omitting them in years in which they experience financial statement losses but including them in a year in which the related tax benefit from the loss is received — also can result in unrepresentative calculations of the average effective tax rate faced by U.S. corporations over the period.

The extension of the GAO analysis provided in this article shows that these distorting effects were significant in the years during and following the 2007-2009 recession. These results show that the 2010 effective tax rates presented in the GAO report are not representative of the long-term effective tax rates faced by corporations. Further, the analysis indicates that inclusion of other foreign taxes that were omitted from the GAO analysis results in higher corporate effective tax rates than reported by the GAO. Finally, much of the media coverage of the GAO report focused on the 2010 effective tax rate based only on federal taxes. In addition to being limited to a single year, this measure of the effective tax rate reflected only a partial picture of the taxes paid or incurred by U.S. companies because it omitted state and local taxes and foreign taxes. As shown in this analysis, the effective tax rate based on worldwide current tax payments for all U.S. corporations exceeded 35 percent for the 2004-2010 period.

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