Thursday, July 7, 2011

The taxation obligation

By Bob Confer

Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series about how large corporations evade federal taxes and abuse US taxpayers.

Long time readers of this column know that I personally despise federal income taxes. But for as much as I complain about them I also understand that I have a legal and moral responsibility to pay them. I know that we could not do without constitutionally-authorized expenditures such as national defense.

Professionally, I feel the same way. My business has an obligation to pay Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of dollars every year because that investment ensures that we have, among other things, the roads upon which our products are transported and the courts which protect our intellectual property. Taxes are at once a necessary evil and an immeasurable benefit. It’s our duty to pay them.

Most businesspeople feel the same way. I say “most” because, according to the Small Business Administration, 99.7% of all employers are small businesses, enterprises owned by regular folks like you and me, people who operate local markets, cafes, and machine shops and understand the American Dream and the give-and-take required to fulfill that dream. Small businesses couldn’t do it without government and vice-versa.

It’s some of that other 0.3% (the large corporations) which, by association, give all corporations a bad name. It’s many of those behemoth entities that see an American marketplace ripe for the picking yet - through countless loopholes that cater to them specifically - don’t provide the necessary nourishment for that garden of plenty.

Take General Electric for example, well known as a tax evader without peer. In 2010 the company had $5.1 billion in US profits but didn’t pay a single cent in federal taxes. As a matter of fact, they had the audacity to claim a $3.2 billion tax credit.

They weren’t alone in this abuse. Some other businesses pulled off tax avoidance in recent profitable years, among them ExxonMobil and Chevron. It should be noted, interestingly enough, that one large corporation routinely derided as being “un-American” has done a fine job of living up to its end of the bargain to the American people. In 2009, for example, Wal-Mart paid $5.3 billion in federal taxes.

More giants should follow Wal-Mart’s lead. After all, it’s only fair. Confer Plastics has to pay a federal tax, as do all those businesses on Main Street in your hometown. And, so do you and me. So, why shouldn’t – and why don’t - the Big Boys? Where is the justice in our tax system?

It is questions like those that need answering and correction immediately. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know America is in some dire straits. Not only is our government still reeling from a lifestyle of overspending made painfully obvious by the Great Recession, but also, Social Security and Medicare are on their deathbeds. With the Washington political class still as lacking in backbone as ever to make necessary cuts to federal spending and a majority of Americans so grossly addicted to entitlement programs, the talk has been in the Capitol that taxes should be raised, whether through corporate taxes, the income tax or those nefarious payroll taxes that somehow slip under everyone’s radar.

The sights need to be trained elsewhere; why attack the people and small businesses? For all that talk about raising taxes, no one in the halls of Congress has really been serious about closing loopholes and instead fixing our tax laws to collect the hundreds of billions from the giant corporations who don’t see corporate citizenship as actual citizenship. Oh, they may talk a good game, but it’s all bark and no bite. President Obama is especially guilty of that, blasting tax avoidance while appointing GE’s Jeffery Immelt as the head of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (heck, I’d be an expert on job creation, too, if somehow we didn’t have to pay a corporate tax).

Over the next three columns I will be analyzing some of the ways that the “evil corporations” (not us good ones) evade their tax obligations, hopefully giving you the reader the insight necessary to contact your Senator and Congressperson about what needs to be done to ensure everyone pays their fair share.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 11 July 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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