Saturday, March 12, 2011

Make Wall Street Pay

This year Bank of America is receiving the "income tax refund from hell" — $666 million for 2010, according to its annual report filed in late February 2011. This is following a $3.5 billion refund reported in 2009. Bank of America's federal income tax benefit this year is roughly two times the Obama administration's proposed cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program ($299 million).

Six banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley together paid income tax at an approximate rate of 11% of their pre-tax US earnings in 2009 and 2010. Had they paid at 35%, what they are legally mandated to pay, the federal government would have received an additional $13 billion in tax revenue. This would cover more than two years of salaries for the 132,000 teacher jobs lost since the economic crisis began in 2008.

Wells Fargo reportedly received a $4 billion federal income tax refund on $18 billion in pre-tax income in 2009, and paid 7.5% of its pre-tax income of $19 billion in 2010 in federal taxes. Its net federal income tax benefit for 2009 and 2010 combined, $2.5 billion, is equal to the Obama administration's proposed cuts of 50% to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Banks use a variety of mechanisms to avoid corporate income taxes, including offshore tax shelters. 50% of the six banks' 1871 foreign subsidiaries are incorporated in jurisdictions that have been identified as offshore tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands.

Bank of America operates 371 tax-sheltered subsidiaries, more than any other big bank studied, and 204 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands alone, according to its latest regulatory filings. 75% of Goldman Sachs's foreign subsidiaries are incorporated in offshore tax havens.

The banks' private banking arms also protect the wealth of rich clients from taxation through offshore investment strategies. Bank of America's wealth management arm encourages clients to register their yachts in foreign jurisdictions for tax reasons.

Closing special tax loopholes on the financial sector and implementing sensible revenue-raising initiatives such as the Financial Speculation Tax could generate over $150 billion in federal tax revenue each year.

Download the report: "Big Bank Tax Drain".