General Electric Restructuring Surprise: Company to Pay 20 Times More in Taxes Than It Paid in the Last Decade
by Scott Klinger, 4/14/2015
In a dramatic move, General Electric (GE) announced on Friday that it would be selling off its financial service businesses. GE expects to shed $200 billion of assets in the restructuring, returning $90 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends, stock buybacks, and new shares in a company to be spun-off.
But it will also pay $6 billion in taxes on its offshore profits as part of the transactions. To put that in context, over the last decade, GE has paid just $293 million in federal income taxes on $68 billion in reported U.S. profits – a tax rate of just 0.4 percent – according to Citizens for Tax Justice. The $6 billion GE expects to pay is more than 20 times as much as it paid in the last ten years combined.
GE shareholders shrugged off news of the company’s large tax payment – the company’s stock price soared more than ten percent on Friday in response – casting doubt on the common corporate assertion that aggressive corporate tax dodging is done for the benefit of shareholders.
GE has nearly 1,000 people in its corporate tax department and spends the greatest share of its vast congressional lobbying budget on pressing for corporate-friendly tax legislation. Last year, taxpayers picked up the tab for $140 million of GE’s taxes as a result of tax credits to offset the company’s research costs, as well as investments in energy efficiency/renewable energy and low-income housing.
GE has also been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Active Financing Exception loophole, which annually costs taxpayers $5 billion. So important is this loophole to GE, and its financial services division in particular, that when it was in danger of expiring in 2011, the head of GE’s tax division dropped to one knee (he now says in jest) and begged then-House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) for its extension.
Today, GE is up off its knees and standing upright, paying its taxes AND pleasing its shareholders in the process. Maybe it’s a good time for other companies to do the same.