Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Wisconsin Buys Foxconn Facility for Kenosha

FoxconnI picked up this version 4 BS lies of Trump and Scott Walker’s Imaginary Foxconn Factory on Tom Bozzo’s facebook page where I stopped to see what he had to say as of late. While it is a great attention grabber, a link caught my eye in Wonkette’s article leading to this America and the Foxconn Dream . This morning Ken Thomas has his very thorough analysis Foxconn Cashes in for $3 Billion-Plus: Analysis up. The first being the wonkier, the 2nd is a Bloomberg discussion, and Ken’s is an analysis on a topic he pursues, government subsidizing business. And this one ??? I am not sure yet.

You look at the picture and you see Ryan smirking in the background, a smug looking Trump smug face, and Mr. Terry Gou in a slight bow looking directly at Trump. I have seen the look before. Typically, this look comes from an Asian associate when they have taken what they want at your expense. Trump has been beating the protectionist drum loudly these days when talking to our neighbors Mexico and Canada. He has threatened China and other countries as well.

Mr. Terry Gou the CEO of Foxconn said he would only come to the US if the chosen location met Foxconn’s demands, which of course Walker with the aid of Paul Ryan did do. The facility is located in Paul Ryan’s backyard. And the threat of having tariffs placed on Foxconn products has dissipated. Foxconn will invest $10 billion in a factory some say will be 20 million square feet and create 3000 jobs of roughly 6600 square feet for each US worker. Sounds more like a warehouse to me even if they stuck 160 foreign made robotic manufacturing cells (Tesla did such) in it. More than likely, this will be an assembly operation with components and assemblies coming from Foxconn and Foxconn suppliers. The value-add will be out of country.

So what does all of this get Wisconsin for shelling out $519 per Wisconsin constituent and the US also?

According to Bloomberg’s Tim Culpan; “Wisconsin is paying as much as $1 million per job, which will carry an average salary of $54,000. The state’s economic development corporation is selling the project to taxpayers with a claim that it will create 10,000 construction jobs for building the facility and another 6,000 indirect positions. It is expecting $3.3 million of investment per employee from the Taiwanese company”.

Foxconn does not have a history of doing what it says and agrees to do. In Pennsylvania, Foxconn pledged $30 million to build a plant and hire 500 workers. It never happened. A pledge of $1 billion to build a plant in Indonesia dissipated also. Foxconn’s division Hon Hai has not spent 10 billion in any single year on infrastructure nor has it spent as much if one combines the last five years. Walker’s boondoggle may be mostly hype and a way to insure he is reelected in 2018.

I wonder why Walker is not in the picture with Ryan and Trump? Maybe out building his used car business for when he is not reelected?

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Here’s what “unaffordable” long-term leukemia care ACTUALLY looks like, Ms. Boonstra. And Rep. Peters.

Just when I thought I’d written my last post on Julie Boonstra, I read Kenneth Thomas’s post below, from Sunday.  The only comment to that post–mine, which I just posted–reads:

How very, very, very sad that there was no ACA during his years of leukemia treatments and hospitalizations, and that we still do not have single-payer.

And how ironic that he had the very same fatal illness that Julie Boonstra has.  I’d like to shove your post in her face, Kenneth.

I’d also like to see Rep. Gary Peters use this family’s situation in his Senate campaign ads in Michigan, and ask whether Julie Boonstra has any idea of what “unaffordable” means with respect to medical care for leukemia.

When she cut the first of her two ads for AFP in mid-February, Boonstra apparently was genuinely unaware of the full terms of her new Blue Cross plan and of the out-of-pocket-costs limitations legislated in the ACA.  And part of the reason why was the failure of healthcare.com to work in October and November and, apparently at least for Michigan’s exchanges, during early December–coupled with Michigan’s decision to not provide its exchange system through a webstie and run and operated by the state.

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NYT Series Illuminates – And Confuses – State of the Subsidy Wars

Louise Story’s series in the New York Times this week has created a substantial buzz about the issue of economic development subsidies.This is a welcome development, because it’s an issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the highest profile media. Story has, in addition, appeared on shows such as MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and NPR’s “Fresh Air,” bringing subsidies to an even wider audience.

She crafted a number of stories that highlighted the big picture issues: imbalance in bargaining power between city governments and giant multinational corporations, the blatant conflicts of interest on display in Texas subsidy procurement, and a border war between Kansas and Missouri involving multimillion dollar incentives to move existing facilities across the state line, with no net benefit for the Kansas City metropolitan area, let alone for the U.S. as a whole.

The last few days have given me time to absorb the articles and the database Story created, as well as surveying the commentary on the web from well-known experts on subsidies. Several tentative conclusions seem in order.

First, as I pointed out in my last post, and backed up by Timothy Bartik’s detailed analysis of Michigan, 5/8 of the national total is in the form of sales tax breaks, and probably the overwhelming majority of those sales tax reductions should not be considered subsidies. Here is what Bartik says about Michigan:

For example, in my own state of Michigan, the New York Times database identifies $6.65 billion in annual state and local business incentives. Of this total, $4.83 billion is in “sales tax refund, exemptions, or other sales tax discounts”.  Of this $4.83 billion, almost all of these refunds come from two provisions of Michigan tax law. First, Michigan does not apply the sales tax to most services, including business services, which saves businesses $3.88 billion annually. Second, for manufacturing, Michigan does not apply the sales tax to goods used as inputs to the manufacturing process, which saves manufacturers about $0.92 billion in sales tax.

For those keeping score at home, that means that $4.80 billion of the $4.83 billion in sales tax breaks should not be considered subsidies, unless you consider manufacturing “specific” enough that this aid constitutes a subsidy, in which case only 80% of the sales tax breaks should be excluded from the subsidy tally.

Second, changes of this magnitude mean that the Times estimates are not sufficiently accurate to use in a statistical analysis, as Richard Florida attempts in The Atlantic Cities. Finding out if incentives affect outcomes like wages, employment, or poverty is precisely the type of analysis we would like to do, but the fragility of the data makes this premature. The good news is that since the data on these state programs are all in one place, it should be possible to get a better handle on state incentives by cutting out those programs which should not be considered subsidies. Different analysts will no doubt have different judgments about what should be counted as a subsidy, but since the database is so inclusive, it should be useful no matter what your definition of subsidy is.

Third, there are some smaller errors in the program database as well. The one I have identified so far is that it counts net operating loss (NOL) tax provisions as subsidies in Illinois and New Hampshire, but not in other states, even though all states with a corporate income tax will have an NOL provision. In any event, this should not be considered a subsidy at all, but a part of a state’s basic macroeconomic framework. In addition, Timothy Bartik pointed out to me in correspondence that the program database does not include single sales factor apportionment (only counting what percentage of a multi-state firm’s sales take place in a given state, rather than standard three-factor apportionment that uses percentages of payroll and property as well) as a subsidy, which it should.

Fourth, the program database does not distinguish between investment incentives (subsidies to affect the location of investment) and subsidies more generally, which may or may not require an investment to obtain them. This is an important distinction I have tried to make clear by providing separate estimates in Investment Incentives and the Global Competition for Capital: $46.8 billion in incentives, and $65 or $70 billion in subsidies, depending on whether or not you count non-specific accelerated depreciation as a subsidy.

Finally, as Phil Mattera at Good Jobs First points out, the deals database misses a number of large awards, leaving out Tennessee’s $450 million (present value) subsidy to Volkswagen and an even bigger package for ThyssenKrupp in Alabama. It also underestimates other awards, including Apple in North Carolina and Boeing in South Carolina. I also found that it underestimated subsidies to Dell and Google in North Carolina by omitting the local subsidy portion of the awards, a problem Ms. Story is aware of, as I noted in my last post.

The Times series has been great for the spotlight it has put on state and local subsidies and the sometimes vulgar politics surrounding the process of awarding them, and for compiling a great database of programs all in one place. However, its interpretation of the sales tax breaks, which are 5/8 of the national total but largely not subsidies, confuses the issue of total impact on state and local budgets and makes statistical analysis premature. This will require some work to fix, but it appears like most of the raw material is there to do it.

Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.

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NYT: $80 Billion in State and Local Subsidies Annually (Updated)

by Kenneth Thomas

NYT: $80 Billion in State and Local Subsidies Annually (Updated)

In today’s New York Times, Louise Story begins a series, “The United States of Subsidies,” ten months in the making, with a story focusing on General Motors closures, the border war for investments between Kansas and Missouri in the Kansas City metropolitan area, and a new estimate of state and local incentives to business, $80 billion a year. Backing this up, and no doubt contributing to the long lead time, is a database of 150,000 state and local subsidy deals going back at least 20 years. Given its appearance in the country’s newspaper of record, the series is sure to elevate the issue of state and local subsidies to a prominence it has never known before.

Since my 2011 estimate was $70 billion per year in total subsidies to business, and $46.8 billion in location incentives, the Times figure represents a substantial increase if accurate. Ever since David Cay Johnston reviewed my book when it first came out, he has argued that my $70 billion figure was probably an underestimate, and the new report would seem to back him up. Nevertheless, I will certainly be spending some time analyzing the database to see just what is in it. According to the story, $18 billion per year is accounted for by corporate income tax breaks, a whopping $52 billion by “sales tax relief,” and the other $10 billion unspecified but most likely property tax breaks. I have some questions about these numbers, however.\

First, it seems to me that property tax breaks likely exceed $10 billion a year. When California axed tax increment financing earlier this year, it was generating $8 billion in tax increment all by itself. Although California cities were by far the biggest user of TIF, municipalities in almost every other state still use it, as well as myriads of property tax abatements offered at the local level. Story is well aware of this. She writes:

The cost of the awards is certainly far higher. A full accounting, The Times discovered, is not possible because the incentives are granted by thousands of government agencies and officials, and many do not know the value of all their awards.

Thousands of local governments give subsidies, and these are overwhelmingly related to property tax. In my most recent estimate, there were several states in Missouriwhich local subsidies exceeded state subsidies, including Missouri and Michigan, so my default assumption was that they were equal if I did not have adequate information on local incentives, as is usually the case due to the huge number of governments involved.

On the other hand, there is some chance that the $52 billion in sales tax subsidies could be an overestimate; it all depends on what The Times includes in this category. My own thinking about sales tax has changed since I first created the subsidy estimates in my 2000 book, Competing for Capital. My estimate for Minnesota, for example, included many hundreds of millions per year in sales tax exemptions for business services. Now, I tend to think of these tax breaks as methods to avoid tax cascading (paying the sales tax on a good more than once, by taxing the full value of every intermediate good) and not a subsidy at all. They have been removed from my estimate of total subsidies in my more recent work, which did not prevent my estimate for 2005 (published in 2011) from being $20 billion higher than that for 1995 (published in 2000). I do still count some sales tax breaks as subsidies, particularly those on plant and equipment, which apply to the initial investment rather than ongoing operations.

While this may seem like a sterile academic argument, in fact it makes a big difference whether incentives are $50 billion a year or $80 billion a year, approximately 600,000 public sector jobs paying $50,000 annually. The larger the true figure, the more pressing is the case for subsidy reform. The inauguration of this new series of articles, plus the database, will help us put a better number on the value, a critical first step toward galvanizing public opinion to force politicians to rein in subsidies.

I will be commenting more on this series over the course of this week.

UPDATE: Text corrected to reflect that although I had specific data for local incentives in Michigan, the total of local incentives was somewhat lower than that of state incentives. In addition, it is clearly true that TIF in California exceeded state subsidies, so obviously so did the total of local subsidies. However, I did not know this at the time I made the estimate.

cross posted with Middle Class Political Economist

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Gigantic journalistic investigation into tax havens

by Kenneth Thomas

Gigantic journalistic investigation into tax havens

While Mitt Romney may be fading from view in the wake of his defeat on November 6, the issue of tax havens is definitely not following suit.

Via the Tax Justice Network, I’ve just learned of a massive, multi-national joint investigation into secrecy jurisdictions by three very heavy hitters, the Guardian, BBC Panorama, and the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Though they are starting out with the United Kingdom and the seriously understudied situation in the British Virgin Islands, ICIJ has announced that this is just the start of a multi-year investigative project and that there are “many more countries to come in the next 12 months.” Further, according to ICIJ, the investigation involves literally “dozens of jurisdictions and in collaboration with dozens of media partners and freelance journalists around the world” (emphasis in original).

As I write this, the first and second articles (Nov. 25 and 26) in the Guardian’s series rank number two and number one in the “most viewed” articles in the last 24 hours. One of the most amazing articles discusses the use of “nominee” directors, people who pretend to be a company or foundation’s directors in order to hide the true ownership from authorities. Incredibly, these nominee directors frequently do not know the companies they are supposedly responsible for; they just know that they are getting paid for the use of their names. Be sure to check out the BBC undercover film linked from this Guardian article.

The tremendous scope of the journalistic investigation begs the question: where is government on this? Part of the answer is that government is way behind the curve. In 1999, the British government claimed to have stamped out a nominee sham colorfully named the “Sark Lark,” for the tiny Channel Island of Sark where the nominees lived. However, it turns out that the perpetrators of the Sark Lark have simply moved all over the world to continue their scam; the BBC caught up with one former Sark resident in Mauritius.

The other part of the answer is that much of these activities are, in the immortal title of David Cay Johnston’s book, “perfectly legal.” It appears that in many cases governments do not make the effort to sift the illegal from the legal activities.

But let’s not forget: tax havens cost the middle class worldwide hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue that they have to make up. The evidence is mounting that they are a central piece of the world financial system. Fundamental reform is necessary and a massive journalistic effort like this one will help produce the outrage to make it possible. I’m looking forward to more fruits of this investigation.

cross posted with Middle Class Political Economist

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What the Fiscal Cliff Means for the Middle Class

by Kenneth Thomas

What the Fiscal Cliff Means for the Middle Class

Now that the election is over, it seems like all the politicians and pundits can talk about is the so-called “fiscal cliff.” But the chatter around the fiscal cliff is deeply weird, so in this post I will explain what it is and what the issues involved mean for the middle class.
 
Just what is the fiscal cliff? It is the combination of spending cuts and tax increases set to take place on January 1 based on several different laws. Estimates of the consequences run as high as $800 billion next year, or 5.2% of the country’s $15.29 trillion gross domestic product in 2011. Yes, that would mean a recession, with obvious consequences for the middle class. But this is only true if we did nothing after January 1, and that’s not going to happen.
 
To put it another way, $800 billion is a 72.7% cut in the government’s budget deficit for the just ended 2012 fiscal year. You would think this would make the people calling for an immediate cut in the deficit happy, but nooooo. Just the opposite, which is the weirdest aspect of the entire debate. I’ll come back to that in a minute; first, let’s look at the main components of the fiscal cliff.
 
The biggest chunk is $426 billion from the final expiration of the Bush tax cuts, according to a Bloomberg analysis in July. Of this, $358 billion is for the first $250,000 of all taxpayers’ earnings, and the remaining $68 billion is for the tax cuts for income above $250,000 ($200,000 for a single person) that President Obama wants to get rid of. Both Republicans and Democrats want to retain the tax break for 98% of households, but Republicans will try to hold it hostage to the cuts for the other 2%. Since the Bush tax cuts expire if nothing gets done (because they were originally passed through the Senate’s reconciliation procedure, which gave them a 10-year lifespan; then renewed for 2 years in 2010), on January 1 the Republicans will have no more leverage on this. Thus, I expect that the middle class tax cuts will be made permanent and, by early January at the latest, the $68 billion will be all that will have expired. Since the wealthy spend less of their income than do the middle class or poor, this tax increase will have little contractionary effect on the economy.


Another set of tax provision affecting couples with over $250,000 and individuals over $200,000 is contained in the Affordable Care Act. These folks will have to pay an extra 0.9% tax on earnings over the thresholds for Medicare, and an extra 3.8% on investment income, starting in 2013. According to an Associated Press estimate, this will raise $318 billion over 10 years, so we’ll call it $30 billion for 2013. Since this is part of the funding for Obamacare, the President is highly unlikely to budge on this. Again, as a tax hike on the top 2%, it will have relatively little contractionary effect.
 
There are $110 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled in 2013 due to the so-called “sequester.” These were triggered last year when no deal was made on long-term deficit reduction. With unemployment still at 7.9%, government spending cuts are definitely harmful to the middle class. To the extent that the $55 billion cut from the defense budget comes from overseas spending, there will be little contractionary effect in this country. That is, if we closed a military base in Germany, it would have more of an effect there than here. In any event, since the United States spends 41% of the world’s total military expenditure,* we could afford to redirect quite a bit of this $711 billion annual expenditure (China is a very distant second at $143 billion) to other uses. Nation building at home, as the saying goes.
 
The other $55 billion would come from domestic discretionary spending, so the middle class would bear the full brunt of this. Of course, neither party wants to see “their” favorite budget items cut, so there is a good chance that these spending cuts will be delayed, which would be a good thing, though not as good as shifting some military spending into the domestic budget.
 
There’s more, of course, but the basic outline is clear: we are seeing a replay of last year’s debt ceiling “deal,” in which Republicans are trying to pass austerity measures the public does not support and did not vote for in the just concluded election. Indeed, a majority voted not just for a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate, but for a Democratic House of Representatives as well, with Republicans maintaining a majority only due to gerrymandering and compliant Republican courts. As Paul Krugman points out, the self-proclaimed “fiscal hawks” are tying themselves up in knots on why going over the cliff is bad when it achieves their goal of debt reduction. The answer, of course, is that they want to cut “low-priority spending,” by which they mean programs benefiting the middle class. As Linda Beale argues, the right course for Democrats is to do nothing until January, when the Bush tax cuts will be gone and we can pass tax cuts more targeted to the middle class as well as redirecting spending from our bloated military to domestic programs.
 
* Source: SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Military Expenditure Database 2011, http://milexdata.sipri.org
http://middleclasspoliticaleconomist.blogspot.com/2012/11/what-fiscal-cliff-means-for-middle-class.html

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Discussing Tax Increment Financing on TV

by Kenneth Thomas

Discussing Tax Increment Financing on TV

I recently appeared on a local public access TV show, Conversation with Lee Presser, discussing tax increment financing and European Union subsidy control regulations. It’s a great format, just an almost 30-minute discussion without interruption, which allowed me to explain the problems with TIF as it has been used in Missouri in great detail. We also had a shorter conversation about EU regulations to control investment incentives and other subsidies, which covered the basics of transparency, maximum subsidy rates that vary by how rich the region is, and the reduction in those rates for large projects. Many thanks to Lee Presser for having me on. If you are interested in economic development issues, I think you will enjoy the program.

(“A Conversation with Kenneth Thomas – UMSL Professor of Political Science – 10/23/12”)

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McMahon’s WWE has taken $36.7 million in Connecticut subsidies

 by Kenneth Thomas

McMahon’s WWE has taken $36.7 million in Connecticut subsidies

U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has received $36.7 million in Connecticut film tax credits in 20 separate deals since 2006, reports CTPost.com (thanks to Karin Richmond on the LinkedIn Public Incentives Forum). As in many states, what historically began as tax credits for motion pictures are now available for TV and online media as well, and it is in these two latter categories that the WWE received its subsidies. Also as is typical of other states, the Connecticut program has no job creation requirements, but is calculated simply as a percentage of “qualified expenditures,” with the rate being 30% in Connecticut. In fact, in WWE’s case, the company had laid off about 60 workers in 2009, yet continued to receive the credits.
 
Moreover, according to the Sacramento Bee blog, “Cageside Seats,” WWE has so little state tax liability that it sells the vast majority of its tax credits via a broker, including 93% of the tax credits it earned in 2007-9. While selling tax credits is perfectly legal (in David Cay Johnston’s memorable phrase), it also increases the subsidies that states give, because they wind up giving subsidies to companies that did nothing to qualify for them under any subsidy program.


Nor is WWE alone in its sale of Connecticut tax credits. According to a 2010 article at the CT Post, “of the 80 productions that received credits, only nine applied them to state taxes.” The rest, presumably, sold their credits via brokers. The article also states that the national tax credit market had reached $500 million annually in 2010, from $50 million per year in 2005.
 
Robert Tannenwald of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has analyzed state film subsidies and concluded they provide very little bang for the buck. This should not be surprising. Unlike most subsidies, film/TV/digital media subsidies do not go to an investment, but to operating costs. There is nothing left after the crew packs up. Tannenwald points out that even the early adopters of film subsidies (New Mexico and Louisiana), which appeared to have built up some in-state film capacity, are now finding it difficult to maintain their position as the number of states offering such incentives skyrocketed to over 40 by 2010. The increased competition has led states to bid up their reimbursement percentages, to over 40% in Alaska and Michigan. Moreover, it’s hard to have job creation requirements for jobs that are inherently temporary.
 
Tannenwald estimates that the 43 states that gave film tax credits in fiscal 2010 spent $1.5 billion. This is enough to hire back 30,000 state workers laid off since the recession began, at an average of $50,000 per year in salary and benefits.
 
Although not members of the Forbes 400, Linda and Vince McMahon follow their example in collecting millions in subsidies from government. This is particularly hypocritical since as a Senate candidate McMahon has tried to portray herself as an opponent of “corporate welfare.”
 
Besides having little bang for the buck, film subsidy programs have been rocked by scandal in both Iowa and Louisiana, where the film commissioner was convicted of bribery to accept inflated expense submissions. The Iowa Film Office director was convicted of felonious misconduct, but acquitted on eight other felony charges. A number of credit claimants in Iowa were convicted of felonies as well in other trials.
 
As I have argued before, investment incentives generally constitute a race to the bottom. However, film and related media subsidies have shown us a high-speed race to the bottom for amazingly little economic benefit. While a few states have cut back on the subsidies due to the recession (and Iowa suspended its program for three years due to the scandal), only federal controls can truly address this problem. My research in Canada (paywalled) found the provinces there similarly unable to control their film subsidy wars. At this point, only only transparency in program costs, plus information on the low benefits and frequent scandals, is the only way to generate political pressure for reform.

http://middleclasspoliticaleconomist.blogspot.com/2012/10/mcmahons-wwe-has-taken-367-million-in.html

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Starbucks in Hot Water Over British Tax

 by Kenneth Thomas

Starbucks in Hot Water Over British Tax

Reuters (via Tax Research UK) reported on October 15 the results of an extensive investigation into the British unit of coffee giant Starbucks, the second largest restaurant firm in the world after McDonald’s. It turns out that the company has reported losing money in every one of the 14 years it has operated in the country, even as it tells investors that the unit is profitable. Reuters documented this latter fact by getting the transcripts of 46 investor conference calls Starbucks has made over the last 12 years.
For the last three years, Starbucks has paid no income tax at all in the United Kingdom. This is a textbook case of using transfer pricing to hide your profits from the taxman and make them show up in tax havens instead.

According to the Reuters report, there are three potential routes the company has to make its profitable British subsidiary legally have no tax liability.

1) The British subsidiary pays a Dutch subsidiary for the use of trademarks and other intellectual property of Starbucks, at a cost of 6% of sales as royalties. An undisclosed amount of this barely profitable unit’s revenue is paid to another Starbucks subsidiary in Switzerland. Where the money goes from there only Starbucks and its accountants, Deloitte, know for sure.

2) Starbucks UK buys its beans through another Swiss subsidiary and they are roasted at a second Dutch subsidiary (this may be a pattern: pay a Dutch subsidiary, which pays a Swiss subsidiary). This gives a second opportunity for transfer pricing, although a transfer pricing investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in 2009-10 resulted in no penalties, the company told Reuters (HMRC would not comment). However, Richard Murphy reports that HMRC has been cutting audit staff and been subject to regulatory capture by the companies it is supposed to be regulating.

3) Finally, the British subsidiary’s operations are financed entirely through debt, for which it pays interest to other Starbucks subsidiaries. The interest is deductible from income in the UK and can accumulate in tax havens as income there. Reuters found that Starbucks UK pays at least 4 percentage points more in interest than McDonald’s UK does.

Paying zero corporate income tax (or corporation tax, as they call it in the UK) gives Starbucks a competitive advantage over other coffee companies that are purely domestic and can’t get out of the tax. Not surprisingly, this has ignited a firestorm of controversy in the United Kingdom. In the last 6 days, HMRC officials have been summoned for testimony before Parliament, probably in November. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (which represents unions in Northern Ireland/UK as well as in the Irish Republic) has called for a boycott of Starbucks. And the company’s reputation has been simply hammered in the social media there, with studies by YouGov and Buzz showing sharp dips into negative territory on their measures of brand perception.

Of course, if Starbucks goes to all this effort to avoid British taxes, you’ve got to wonder what strategies it’s using to avoid taxes in the United States. Any reporters out there up for the challenge?

Middle Class Political Economist

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Romney’s Accountants Busted in New Tax Justice Network Study

by Kenneth Thomas

Romney’s Accountants Busted in New Tax Justice Network Study

When Mitt Romney released the second of his tax returns last month, he also gave us a summary of his 1990-2009 taxes prepared by his accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The whole point of that exercise, aside from trying to distract people from demanding the actual returns, was to muddy the waters and hide behind the supposedly strong reputation of PwC: an accounting firm would never lie, would it?
Of course, this is a silly question on its face. Who do you think designs abusive tax shelters, other than tax accountants and tax attorneys?

Now, in a new study by the Tax Justice Network, we see that there is a positive correlation between a jurisdiction’s (remember, not all tax havens are independent countries) secrecy index and the number of banks and Big Four accounting firms (PwC, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and Deloitte) per capita present there. The report documents one “leveraged partnership transaction” that PwC both designed and then pronounced to be legally valid (in what is usually termed an “opinion,” for which it was paid $800,000), which the U.S. Tax Court strongly criticized as a “conflict of interest” when it upheld the Internal Revenue Service’s squashing of this arrangement.

More specifically, we find that the Cayman Islands had the third most Big Four accounting offices per 1000 population at 0.95, compared with just .001 per 1000 for the United States (see Graphs 4 and 5, p. 24, in the report). This density is almost 100 times higher in the Caymans than in the U.S. The Caymans also had more than twice as many banks per 1000 as any other country, at 4.5 per 1000, compared to .023 per 1000 for the U.S. (Graphs 1 and 2). The graph below shows Big Four offices per 1000:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-U6pUUfeRPto/UH6Iz4yqofI/AAAAAAAADHw/kv5pzfBQM5w/s1600/Banks+2.jpg
Source: Tax Research UK

Note, too, that Bermuda (which the Romneys also have used) comes in at about .06 per 1000 population, or about 60 times the U.S. rate.

Similarly, we find that comparing the secrecy score of the 20 worst tax havens with the Tax Justice Network’s broader list of 71 tax havens and with the G-20 nations shows a much higher mean and median secrecy score in the tax havens than in the non-havens, as the next graph shows.

/wp-content/oldimages/angrybear/1/-4_pDLa0lanU/UH6q2h-f6gI/AAAAAAAADIs/BHf1lsgx56U/s1600/16.10-2.png
Source: Tax Research UK

As Richard Murphy, one of the authors of the report, comments at Tax Research UK:

This research lets us conclude that working in conditions of secrecy has become an inherent part of the work of bankers and accountants. It suggests that this has led to a culture of creative non-compliance with laws and regulations, which is likely to increase the potential for, and volume of, crime. At the same time, banks’ and Big 4 firms’ lobbying for laws and regulations that reduce transparency is likely to have resulted in further opacity in the world’s financial system.

This, then, is the world in which Mitt Romney travels, a world in which accounting firms actively seek to create tax avoidance opportunities with little concern for whether they step outside the law’s boundaries, and in so doing facilitate the transfer of the tax burden from the 1% to the 99%. In my opinion, PwC’s assurances about Romney’s tax situation are not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Bonus question for President Obama to pose in the third debate: Why is the “McCain precedent” (2 years of tax returns) more important to you than the George Romney precedent (12 years of returns)?

cross posted with Middle class Political Economist

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