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General Electric: King of the Tax Dodgers

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GENERAL ELECTRIC
AP

Congressional Republicans are about to cut the Tsunami Warning System from the National Weather Service budget. But if General Electric paid their fair share of taxes, we could reverse this and billions in additional budget cuts.

General Electric Company -- known for its light bulbs, refrigerators -- and lately, for its nuclear reactors -- is one of the country's biggest tax dodgers.

Recent filings show that in 2010, General Electric reported global profits of $14.2 billion, claiming $5.1 billion from U.S. operations.

How much did it pay in U.S. corporate taxes? Zero. Actually, we taxpayers paid G.E. $3.2 billion.

As David Kocieniewski reports in the New York Times, G.E. "has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than most multinational companies."

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2006 and 2010, General Electric reported $26.3 billion in pretax profits to its shareholders but paid no U.S. taxes. In fact, they received $4.2 billion in refunds from Uncle Sam for an effective tax rate of negative 15.8 percent over these five years.

General Electric accomplishes this feat by using is political muscle in Congress and lobbying for special tax treatment and corporate welfare. It also aggressively moves is profits to offshore tax havens including Bermuda, Singapore, and Luxembourg.

While several divisions of GE have struggled over the last decade, GE's accountants think of themselves as a profit center. The company's 975-member tax division includes many former Treasury and IRS officials who never a met a loophole they didn't love.

Why do we tolerate the behavior of companies like General Electric? These Benedict Arnold corporations reap all the benefits of doing business in the U.S. -yet avoid their responsibilities for paying. Next time they have a fire at one of their plants, they should call the Fire Department in Bermuda.

GE will only pay its fair share when enough citizens wake up and demand that our politicians crack down on tax dodgers. No politician should be allowed to propose a budget cut or moan about austerity until they crack down on the scofflaws such as General Electric.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he coordinates the Program on Inequality and the Common Good (www.inequality.org). See his recent column, Corporate Tax Dodgers, Pay Up -and Talking Points on Corporate Tax Dodging.