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Report: Big Companies Good at Avoiding State Taxes

PHOTO: As Kentucky struggles to work within another tight state budget, a new report sheds light on tax cuts for big corporations. Photo courtesy Legislative Research Commission.
PHOTO: As Kentucky struggles to work within another tight state budget, a new report sheds light on tax cuts for big corporations. Photo courtesy Legislative Research Commission.
March 31, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. - As the deadline closes in on Kentucky lawmakers to pass another tight budget, a report from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows that profitable Fortune 500 companies around the country, including Kentucky-based Yum Brands and Humana, pay little in state corporate income taxes. The report finds that companies constantly ask for more tax breaks, even as most already have seen their state tax rates decline since 2008.

According to Matt Gardner, director of ITEP, some firms even collect refunds after paying zero taxes.

"I think part of the reason you see so many companies asking for these corporate handouts is that they know there's a track record of success," he said.

According to the report, Yum Brands made $1.8 billion in profits, but avoided paying state corporate income taxes in two of the five years examined by the study. Kentucky's top corporate income tax rate is 6 percent, slightly lower than the national average, 6.25 percent.

Richard Beliles, the chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, said that the influence big corporations have on the General Assembly is, as he put it, "very frustrating."

"We're just out-gunned and in the legislature, most of them, all they're thinking about is being re-elected, Democrats and Republicans," he charged. "And that's why they don't want to take on any important issues, any sensitive issues."

Beliles said the most telling finding in the report about Kentucky is that corporate taxes now make up only 6.9 percent of the state's General Fund collection, whereas back in 1989 it was 11.6 percent.

Matt Gardner said he hopes the report serves as a reason for lawmakers to embark on corporate tax reform, but he acknowledged that's a tough job, because legislators often don't know what corporate taxes look like.

"It's ludicrous that state lawmakers are being lobbied by these companies for further tax cuts without knowing whether these companies are paying any corporate taxes to begin with," Gardner declared.

The report examined tax records of 269 large corporations - all profitable - and found that collectively, they avoided paying more than $73 billion dollars in state corporate taxes. Ninety of those companies, one in three, paid no state income tax at all.

The report, "90 Reasons We Need State Corporate Tax Reform," is at CTJ.org.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY