Originally posted in the Petersburg Progress-Index.
It wasn’t until I fractured my hip that I realized I’d been physically compensating for my muscular dystrophy by putting more pressure on my bones all my life. To meet their own challenges, a lot of people in this country are economically compensating: risking their retirement to pay for their kids’ college, borrowing money to cover stagnant paychecks, even going hungry to afford their medicine.
We can relieve some of that economic pressure on working families with the right taxing and spending policies.
There was general celebration in Washington, D.C. recently when the federal government adopted a budget without the unnecessary pain of a government shutdown. But that budget did nothing to correct another kind of unhealthy compensation: asking too much of working people in cuts to important services because politicians are demanding too little in taxes from big corporations and the wealthy.
Over the past five years of reducing federal deficits, spending cuts have done 80 percent of the work. Trillions of dollars have been slashed from services that give working families a hand up and from military spending. There have been fewer kids attending preschool, fewer hot meals delivered to homebound seniors, fewer families finding their way into permanent homes. Meanwhile, profit-stuffed multinational corporations have contributed nothing to the effort.
We could start fixing this imbalance by simply collecting the taxes corporations already owe but haven’t paid. Thanks to a giant loophole in the tax code, multinational corporations can indefinitely avoid paying U.S. taxes on profits kept offshore. Little wonder those overseas corporate earnings have grown to a staggering $2.1 trillion—and the unpaid tax bill has grown to an almost equally staggering $600 billion. Apple Corporation, alone, owes almost $60 billion.
Those uncollected taxes would go a long way towards rebalancing the playing field for those of us who are not corporate CEOs or Wall Street millionaires. I’m particularly aware, from personal and professional experience, of the disability community’s daily struggles for accessible housing, reliable transportation and other elements of a good life most people take for granted.
But corporate tax dodging hurts everyone. Across Virginia, hospitals and clinics are closing; Richmond schools are overcrowded and, in Petersburg-area schools, extracurricular activities are always on the chopping block.
There’s been talk in D.C. about tapping some portion of that $600 billion to pay for highway repair and maintenance. But the proposals all involve forgiving the vast majority of the bill–$400 billion or more. It is beyond me to figure out why we would reward tax-dodging corporations with a huge tax cut when we need resources for vital public services.
But that’s probably because I’m not a K Street lobbyist. They’re the ones who’ve convinced the politicians that the real problem isn’t unpaid corporate taxes, but it is the corporate tax rate almost no one pays.
Some of the biggest corporate advocates for cutting the official 35 percent rate have the most loot offshore, on which they’ve paid no U.S. taxes. (They have paid just 6 percent in taxes to foreign governments, mostly tax havens). Overall, U.S. corporations get off pretty lightly: a government study found that in one recent year they paid U.S. taxes at only a 13 percent rate.
And some corporations ignore their tax obligations entirely. Over a recent five-year span, several dozen—including such familiar names as Boeing, General Electric and Verizon—paid precisely zero in federal income taxes, according to a report from Citizens for Tax Justice.
Today, kids with muscular dystrophy are taught how to move in ways that don’t overstress their bones. It’s possible for them to learn healthier, more balanced habits than we learned when I was young.
Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Mark Warner can help create a more balanced taxing-and-spending policy from his position on the Finance Committee. Washington policy makers must learn to stop relying on the sacrifice of the young, elderly, disabled, and working people to fill budget holes. Instead, they need to build budgets based on a fair and adequate tax contribution from the wealthy and big corporations.