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The Myth of the 12.6 Percent Effective Corporate Tax Rate

by curtis kalin / /

A May 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claimed that U.S. corporations paid an effective tax rate of just 12.6 percent - a startling revelation considering the U.S. now has the highest statutory corporate tax rate in the world at 35 percent. As a wary taxpayer might expect however, there is more to the story…

The GAO study was used by many to bolster the notion that tax loopholes and offshore “tricks” allowed American businesses to duck a great deal of their tax burden. The party for those seizing on this opportunity was short-lived, however, as a more complete analysis performed by international tax expert Andrew B. Lyon (with Pricewaterhouse Coopers ) showed real and significant problems with GAO’s analysis.

Lyon’s study, published in the academic journal Tax Notes last month, exposed glaring omissions that skewed GAO’s baseline finding. Most evident was GAO’s use of just the year 2010 in their analysis.  In making their judgment, they selected a narrow window of time that that just happened to coincide with loss write-offs resulting from several years of the Great Recession. Lyon took a more comprehensive approach, breaking down the corporate rate from 2004-2010.  His finding was that long-term, “The effective tax rate based on worldwide current tax payments for all U.S. corporations exceeded 35 percent for the 2004-2010 period.”

What’s more, Lyon’s more comprehensive methodology found that even during the limited period GAO examined, effective corporate income tax rates well exceeded the 12.6 percent reported by GAO, largely because the agency failed to account for taxes paid to foreign governments on certain income dividends received by American companies.

An effective tax rate of 35 percent ranks highest among industrialized nations and has America lagging behind in terms of tax competitiveness. With unemployment in particular remaining a challenge for the U.S., it is important for policymakers to clearly understand the damage a punitive corporate income tax rate causes our economy. Taxpayers should not be fooled into a false choice using false facts. How the GAO could issue such a flawed study is another question…

Andrew Lyon’s very in-depth study is highly recommended for those looking to dive deeper into this discussion, read it HERE.