By Ryan McCarthy
The opinions expressed are his own.
Big U.S. multinationals have a strange sense of timing: apparently, now is the ideal time to fight for a tax holiday. The New York Times on Monday had an in-depth look at the topic of a repatriation tax holiday, with lovely charts and a helpful video detailing the myriad ways corporations cut their tax bills by stashing profits overseas. Given the clamoring about lack of demand in the economy, the deficit talks and swollen corporate cash holdings, the lobbying push seems poorly timed at best.
New York Times' David Kocieniewski is rightly skeptical of the effort that’s currently backed by even tech titans like Apple and Google. He ferrets out an NBER study that excoriates the results of an abysmal 2004 dalliance with a repatriation tax holiday, which the study finds, led to little actual hiring and investment in the U.S. The appeal of a repatriation tax holiday is that large U.S.-based corporations could temporarily see much of their taxable income fall to 5.25 percent -- the rate often paid through overseas subsidiaries -- from 35 percent, the U.S. corporate rate. In theory, this windfall would temporarily prevent corporations from stashing profits overseas, bring in tax revenue, create jobs and spur investment.
And while Kocieniewski spends nearly 2,000 words on the issue, he doesn't mention specifics of the actual legislation in play, which make the latest tax repatriation push seem just as unpromising as its predecessor.
The "Freedom to Invest Act" -- a title that couldn't be more ironic given the state of corporate coffers -- makes at best only a cursory attempt to do better than its 2004 version. Introduced by Rep. Jim Brady (R-Texas), the bill has gained nine co-sponsors, including Democrats like Colorado's Jared Polis and Tennessee's Jim Cooper.
The key difference in the current version of the repatriation push seems to be a taxable income penalty of $25,000 that would be assessed to corporations that lay off employees within two years of the tax holiday. The penalty is meant to punish corporations that repatriate overseas profits, then simply pay that money to their shareholders and do little or no hiring.