Some years back, in the early noughties, the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour rolled into Tucson. The tour was a traveling show in the old chautauqua tradition, with music and lectures and workshops, a variety of learning and entertainment of a progressive political bent. I went, and while I was there, I attended a presentation on the history of business in America and the concept of corporate personhood, the idea that corporations want, and expect, to have the same rights as citizens, despite taking on few of the responsibilities.
In the last decade, I’ve seen a lot of their predictions come true, not the least of which was the recent Supreme Court decision stating that corporations had First Amendment rights, including that of free speech in the form of campaign contributions and advertising. It’s more than a little scary, because corporations, which are made up of individuals who get a legitimate vote already, are double-dipping; their managers and boards get additional votes because they can afford to buy them, whether it’s directly or via broadcasting their agenda at a volume loud and frequent enough to drown out competing voices.
But even if you’re willing to consider the genuine validity of corporate personhood, of businesses as individual entities that hold a stake in this nation and therefore deserve a voice as well, there is one thing that citizens in this country do that corporations are not doing, and, in fact, are assiduously avoiding doing. And that is paying taxes.
I finished my tax returns last week, and all told (federal and state), Scott and I rendered unto Caesar more than my first-year teaching salary. It was a little shocking to see the numbers in black and white, but we, (unlike a lot of Americans, evidently), recognize that things cost money, and the money the government runs on has to come from taxes. We have been fortunate, and with that, we believe, comes a responsibility to give back. People like us should pay more, because we are lucky enough to have more. It makes perfect sense to us.
We even paid a little extra because our state legislative crackpots passed an “I didn’t pay enough taxes” law, a snarky little law meant to call Arizonans’ bluff when they speak out against further tax cuts, considering the state is already hemorrhaging red ink. The sponsor of the bill, a birther from Skull Valley, has a fair amount of contempt it seems for voters’ intelligence and compassion. She doesn’t expect anyone to voluntarily pay extra taxes, so our donation was a snarky little response to the significant tax refund we were due from our broke-ass state that has no business giving money back to anyone when it’s shutting down schools, cutting health care assistance to the indigent, and denying organ transplant coverage. Hope you don’t need a heart; our legislature certainly hasn’t got one. In any case, we pay our taxes, like citizens are supposed to.
But corporate citizens, because they’ve exercised millions and millions of dollars of their free speech rights, do not. GE alone, a company that reported $14.2 billion in profits last year, didn’t pay a cent of tax. Not only did they not pay any tax, they got a tax benefit of $3.2 billion from the federal government.
$3.2 billion. I can’t even conceive of that kind of money.
The same Republicans who are screaming about welfare moms and food stamp cheats and belt-tightening and the growing budget deficit are the ones who created and continue to champion the laws to benefit these companies (who bought them fair and square with huge campaign contributions), and are giving multibillion dollar handouts in corporate welfare every year, and are asking you and me (who are actual citizens) to make up the difference. If the financial idiocy doesn’t choke you, the hypocrisy ought to.
And not only are these corporations not paying their fair share, and receiving huge payouts directly from the national purse, they are now lobbying strenuously for even lower taxes (lower than zero, I guess, which means even bigger handouts), plus a “tax holiday” so they can bring the money they’ve stashed overseas (to avoid taxes, natch) home at a lower rate than usual. They claim, as they always do, that if the government lets them do this, it’ll translate into more jobs for the 13.7 million Americans out of work. Of course, it didn’t work that way the last time they did it in 2004. They also said that about the bailout, and the continuance of the tax cuts, but it never quite seems to translate into actual job creation, despite record profits, profits that are really only possible when you cut labor, the most expensive part of any corporate budget, down to a skeleton crew and leave it there. They’re not on tough times, even as many Americans are still struggling.
$14.2 billion in profits. Zero taxes. $3.2 billion tax benefit. (You can’t really call it a “refund” because they’d have to pay taxes to get them back.)
Now, Citizen, take a look at that 1040 form you filled out this year, as is your civic duty. Does it look like that?
If we want to solve the budget crisis in this nation, and in state after state, it will not come from hanging teachers, firefighters, and police officers out to dry. The answer is to get the corporations to pay their share, close tax loopholes, and charge penalties for folks and companies who try to hide their income in the name of tax evasion. It was tax evasion that put Al Capone in Alcatraz; that would indicate to me that it’s a crime, if not actual treason. Actual human persons can’t get away with not paying taxes; it’s way past time that corporate persons, who insist they have rights as Americans, are treated the same way. If you’re going to live here, work here, and prosper beyond anyone’s wildest dreams here, then you can damn well chip in your share to the general welfare here.