Tax loopholes used by large corporations have a massive impact on Oregon, a new report shows.
Findings from consumer advocacy nonprofit Oregon State Public Interest Research Group Foundation and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy show corporate tax avoidance, largely through use of offshore accounts, costs the state $175 million annually.
Rep. Rob Nosse (D-Portland) wants to fix that. He's sponsoring "complete reporting" legislation—a bill creating requirements for corporations that do business in Oregon to report total, global profits as well as the percentage of business done in the state—in an attempt to close tax loopholes.
Currently, by funneling money into tax havens—accounts in countries like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands where there are little to no taxes—companies can avoid paying U.S. taxes.
"Instead of paying the top corporate tax rate in Oregon of 7.6 percent," OSPRIG's report notes, "they can pay close to nothing, even if the profits are attributable to business done in the state."
A 2017 report by OSPRIG shows that at least 366 Fortune 500 companies had some amount of money booked in offshore tax havens.
"As you can see, the problem is incredibly widespread," OSPIRG's state director Charlie Fisher tells WW, "which explains why there is so much money on the table if Oregon were to close these tax loopholes and implement complete reporting."
Complete reporting would require multinational companies that do business in the state to report both global profits and the percentage of business done in Oregon.
For example, "if a state makes up 2 percent of a company's global business, then 2 percent of their taxable profit would be subject to the state's tax rate."
That would likely have an outsized impact on the state's largest company.
Nike, the Oregon-based sportswear company, recently received scrutiny from European Union regulators for its tax avoidance strategies, The Oregonian reported.
The company reportedly moved $12.2 billion in profits to offshore accounts and did deals with subsidiaries in Bermuda, the Netherlands and other countries—effectively lowering the company's 2017 tax rate to its lowest in six years, despite record annual sales.
Update, Jan. 18: Greg Rossiter, a spokesman for Nike, says that the company is subject to and complies with all national tax laws, and that it does not believe the EU investigation has merit.
"Nike has invested deeply in Oregon and contributes substantially to the state's economy," Rossiter says. "We haven't reviewed the report or the proposed legislation among the hundreds of bills introduced in Salem, but Nike has paid corporate income tax on all its global earnings and pays significant other taxes including duties, tariffs, property taxes, sales taxes and payroll taxes in markets where it operates around the world."
Nosse introduced complete reporting legislation in Salem earlier this week.
"I think right now everybody is thinking about ways to raise taxes on large businesses, and this is just one option," he tells WW. "We know that if we want to fix schools and pay for healthcare, we're going to have to raise a lot more money."
Nosse says a complete reporting system won't "raise as much as we need," but could result in a yearly tax revenue increase of roughly $300 million.
Otto Schell, legislative director of the Oregon Parent Teacher Association, says that could be good news for schools.
"When corporations avoid paying their taxes, Oregon's children's end up picking up the tab," Schell says in a statement. "Our educational outcomes are consistently some of the lowest in the country. Making sure corporations can't get out of paying taxes is an important first step towards making Oregon a leader in student success."