Trump tax law

Then-President Donald Trump joked with Republican lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence during an event celebrating the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on December 20, 2017.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Corporate Tax Avoidance Rampant During First 5 Years of Trump-GOP Law: Study

"Corporate tax avoidance occurs because Congress allows it to occur, and the Trump tax law made it worse," says a new study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Many large, profitable U.S. companies paid little to nothing in federal taxes during the first five years of the 2017 Trump-GOP tax law, an unpopular measure that slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and introduced new loopholes that the rich and powerful rushed to exploit.

A study released Thursday by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) examines 342 companies that were profitable during each of the first five years of the tax law's enactment. The new research shows that corporate tax avoidance has been rampant under the law, with 23 of the companies included in the study paying nothing in federal taxes between 2018 and 2022 and 109 businesses paying nothing in at least one of the five years.

Kinder Morgan, NRG Energy, and T-Mobile were among the profitable companies that paid a 0% or negative effective tax rate during the study period.

"When President [Donald] Trump and congressional Republicans slashed the statutory corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%, they could have maintained or even increased the effective rate paid by corporations by shutting down special breaks and loopholes in the corporate income tax," reads the new report. "But from the very beginning of the debate over the 2017 legislation, it was clear their goal was to allow corporations to contribute less to the public investments and the society that makes their profits possible."

Nearly a quarter of the companies analyzed by ITEP "paid effective tax rates in the single digits or less" during the law's first five years, including prominent corporations such as Netflix, Nike, and Citigroup.

ITEP found that the "industries enjoying the lowest five-year effective tax rates were utilities (negative 0.1%); oil, gas, and pipelines (2.0%); motor vehicles (3.2%); and telecommunications (7.7%)."

On average, the 342 companies included in the analysis paid an effective tax rate of 14.1% between 2018 and 2022—significantly less than the 21% statutory rate established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The difference between what companies would have paid in taxes if they were held to the 21% statutory rate and what they actually paid amounts to a major taxpayer subsidy, ITEP said. The 342 companies received a combined $275 billion in subsidies during the first five years of the Trump-GOP tax law, with the majority going to just 25 companies.

Bank of America received the largest tax break of all the companies analyzed—$23.89 billion.

"For many of the biggest corporations in America, our 21% tax rate is an accounting fiction," said Matt Gardner, a senior fellow at ITEP and the lead author of the new study. "Because of an array of special-interest tax breaks, the most profitable corporations in America routinely pay effective tax rates far below the legal rate."

"It does not have to be this way. Congress should take more steps to crack down on this widespread corporate tax avoidance."

While corporate tax avoidance certainly didn't begin with the 2017 tax law, ITEP's study notes that it "did little to change" the status quo—"except to allow companies to pay less than ever."

"Corporate tax avoidance occurs because Congress allows it to occur, and the Trump tax law made it worse," the analysis says.

Some notorious tax avoiders, such as Amazon, were excluded from the study because they reported a loss during at least one of the five years that ITEP examined. Amazon paid an effective tax rate of 8.9% between 2018 and 2022.

"Americans who heard President Trump and his supporters in Congress tout the 21% corporate income tax rate they enacted in 2017 may be alarmed to hear that so many corporations pay much less than that in reality," said Steve Wamhoff, ITEP's federal policy director and report co-author. "But it does not have to be this way. Congress should take more steps to crack down on this widespread corporate tax avoidance."

The report specifically advocates a global minimum tax that would require multinational companies to pay an effective rate of at least 15%, a proposed change aimed at cracking down on profit-shifting. The Biden administration negotiated a global minimum tax deal with other nations in 2021, but the divided U.S. Congress has yet to advance the proposal.

"Drafters of the Trump tax law made some token efforts to address these problems, for example, by imposing a weak U.S. tax on certain profits that American corporations claim to earn offshore," ITEP's report observes. "This left the corporate income tax in dire need of the Biden administration's efforts to reform it."

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