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Rep. John F. Tierney

Rep. John F. Tierney

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Reexamine the Tax code: An Investment in Hardworking Americans and in Our Future

Posted: 03/31/11 12:04 PM ET

Those who tuned in to 60 Minutes this past week were able to see two segments portraying a woman and a man involved in noble pursuits for significant social benefit. These were juxtaposed with a third segment involving a multinational corporation's executive trying to justify his company's avoidance of paying U.S. taxes.

The woman single-handedly operates a global charity aimed at ensuring children with significant injuries could receive treatment in U.S. hospitals. She did this from a closet in her home on what seemed to be a shoestring budget. It did not seem she was financially rewarded a great degree for this work.

The man has been a high school coach, who for decades has worked with young men and taught them how to play basketball as well as the value of character and commitment to self-improvement. An extraordinary percentage of this coach's players attended college, where they went on to graduate. This man had opportunities to leave for more lucrative positions but did not.

Both individuals seemed to be motivated by helping others and serving a cause greater than their own financial interest. From their efforts, countless lives have been changed for the better. They appear to represent what makes our country so great.

In contrast, the third story addressed the trend of profitable multinational corporations that are headquartered in the U.S. but which move jobs and profits offshore. The Cisco executive being interviewed even indicated that this was generally done to avoid paying taxes to the U.S. Treasury.

The Cisco executive bemoaned the high U.S. corporate tax rate of 35% as a factor virtually forcing corporations to create jobs overseas and keep sizable profits offshore. Of course, he failed to mention that few, if any, U.S. corporations doing business offshore actually pay that rate.

The executive also asserted that large corporations were proffering a deal: allow them to pay only 5% on monies returned from their tax free harbor and billions now being hoarded there would be brought to the American economy and put to use - seemingly implying they'd be invested to create jobs in the U.S. However, this executive again forgot to mention a salient point -- that was tried not too many years ago only to, in fact, see money returned to this country and have analysis indicate that few, if any jobs resulted and instead shareholders received a tax-advantaged windfall!

Recently we have seen some in Congress claim that we must pursue economic and job-killing strategies of radically cutting investments in education, job training and infrastructure because of the looming long-range deficit resulting from the 2001-2008 recession-inducing policies. What the public is seldom told is that while we do need to rid all of our programs of waste, fraud, abuse and duplication, we will also need to ensure a fairer tax code that calls on every taxpayer to pay a fair share. There is over $1 trillion annually spent on tax expenditures (those subsidies, credits, deductions and special treatments for individuals, classes and corporations) hidden throughout the tax code. Putting the scrutiny of those tax expenditures on the table for discussion will allow us to address the deficit while still investing in economic growth and job creation - our most pressing immediate challenges.

While the American economy today is more than twice as large as it was 30 years ago, this wealth has collected primarily at the top. Rather than a society where the wealthiest one percent of income earners grab 23.5% of income, compared to 9% in the 1970s, perhaps if we eliminated unnecessary tax expenditures along with cutting waste and fraud and duplication in our budget, while still investing in the programs that directly help those in need, we could lessen the inequitable distribution of wealth and truly have a fairer and more equitable society.

If the question were put to regular families in this country, I think most would respect the woman and man in the first two 60 Minutes stories described, and would cringe regarding the corporate executive's conduct. In order to invest in our future, we must ensure that we appropriately protect programs that provide skills, services, and education for middle-class Americans rather than providing tax breaks for large corporations. Let's hope Congress begins to see fair taxation as part of the answer to our pressing economic challenges.