The Common Good

A Grassroots Call to Tackle Corporate Tax Dodging

Across the United States, there is a new movement emerging to dramatize the immorality of corporate tax dodging in the face of drastic budget cuts.

US UNCUT, inspired by a similar grassroots movement in England, has organized creative demonstrations at the branch offices of notorious tax avoiders. Their message is "America is Not Broke," and "Pay Up, Corporate Tax Dodgers."

On Saturday, February 26, there were more than 50 local demonstrations at branches of Bank of America, Federal Express, and Verizon More demonstrations are planned in the weeks leading up to April 15 Tax Day.

"The seven dollars in my wallet," said Carl Gibons, a US UNCUT cofounder from Mississippi, "is more than the combined amount of federal corporate income taxes paid by Fortune 500 headliners like Bank of America and Boeing. I pay more on my monthly cell phone bill than Verizon paid in taxes for the last two years."

It is unseemly that state and federal governments are cutting deeply while profitable U.S. corporations pay no or low taxes, thanks to overseas tax havens and other loopholes. In the last few days, I've learned that Texas is closing rural community colleges, New Hampshire is eliminating vital mental health services, and Arizona is ending health care programs for thousands of low-income children. These cuts are what has given rise to the movement around "What would Jesus Cut?"

Meanwhile, Boeing Corporation earned $9.7 billion in profits over the last three years but paid no taxes. Yet they were just awarded a $35 billion federal contract. Between 2006 and 2010, General Electric reported a $26.3 billion profit to their shareholders, but paid no taxes to Uncle Sam. This was thanks to creative accounting and the use of offshore tax havens, where companies pretend to earn their profits, while deducting loses in the U.S.

The growing use of offshore tax havens drains treasuries around the world, including developing countries attempting to provide services for their own citizens. Tax haven abuse undercuts jobs and undermines domestic businesses that pay their fair share of taxes because they are forced to compete on an unlevel playing field against corporate tax dodgers.

As governors and politicians across the land prepare their state budgets, they should listen to these grassroots voices calling for tax justice. "We are broke," said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. "We will have to spread the pain around," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. These governors pretend they have no other choices before them.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 46 states have budget gaps of more than $102 billion. This is equal to the amount of revenue that could be generated by closing overseas tax havens. In my article in the April issue of Sojourners, I identify eight sources of revenue that could generate over $400 billion a year.

U.S. UNCUT reminds us that we have a moral crisis, not a budget crisis. Our political leaders are choosing to hurt the most vulnerable in our communities rather than close corporate tax loopholes and enact progressive tax reforms.

In a political environment that has been captured by corporations, maybe it is off limits to require global multinationals to pay their fair share. But as the public understands the trade-offs, new voices of reason like US UNCUT will emerge.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good. He is co-author, with Mary Wright, of The Moral Measure of the Economy (Orbis Books) and with Bill Gates Sr. of Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes (Beacon).

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