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Corporate taxes: Many top U.S. firms paid none, report says

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Many of the nation's most profitable companies are paying far less than the 35% corporate income tax rate, with dozens paying none at all, according to a new report.

Advocacy and research groups Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy examined 280 companies and concluded that they paid an average 18.5% rate from 2008 through 2010 -- about half the official rate.

Companies lashed out at the findings.

GE accused the report of being “inaccurate and distorted” and said that it expects to pay a 30% overall tax rate this year. Verizon said the study was “union-orchestrated” as well as being “deceptive and politically motivated,” adding that the company paid out $1.8 billion in taxes over the three-year period.

But according to the study, only a quarter of companies paid close to 35% of their U.S. profits, while another quarter paid less than 10%.

The report also found that 78 paid zero -- or had a negative tax rate -- for at least one year due to nearly $223 billion in tax subsidies, 17% of which went to the financial services industry. Thirty companies went tax free for all three years, researchers found.

Wells Fargo alone took in nearly $18 billion in tax breaks over the last three years, followed by around $14 billion for AT&T and $12 billion for Verizon, researchers found.

Over the period, the tax rate of energy company Pepco Holdings averaged out to negative 57.6%, according to the report. General Electric’s was negative 45.3%.

The study, the 10th since 1984, culled from firms listed among the Fortune 500 who were profitable for each of the last three years.  Amid a backdrop of calls from Republican presidential candidates Herman Cain and Rick Perry to lower the existing corporate tax rate, report authors said their findings were not mean to be “anti-business.”

Corporations are also on the hook for state and local corporate income taxes as well as sales, property and payroll taxes, said Will McBride, an economist with the nonpartisan Tax Foundation research group. From 1994 through 2008, he said, corporations paid out more in taxes than they pulled in through after-tax profits for all but three years.

This week, the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation said that in order for the government to bring in a consistent amount of revenue, the corporate tax rate should drop no lower than 28%.

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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

 
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