Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Losing Our Remaining Tax Base

In the fall of 2008, with General Motors and Chrysler on the precipice of bankruptcy, executives at the car parts supplier Johnson Controls flew to Washington. The company’s president testified before a Senate panel and implored lawmakers to bail out the auto industry.

“Speaking for our company, and, I am sure for all auto parts suppliers, we respectfully urge the members of this committee, and the Congress as a whole, to provide the financial support the automakers need at this critical time,” Keith Wandell, then the president of Johnson Controls, said, warning that the failure of even one automobile company would “implode” the supply chain and lead to broad job losses.

Congress approved a bailout plan worth almost $80 billion for General Motors and Chrysler, saving the automakers and, indirectly, suppliers like Johnson Controls. By 2010, with its business back on track, Johnson Controls doubled the pay of Stephen Roell, then its chief executive, to more than $15 million.

Despite the federal government’s rescue — and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks over the last several decades from states like Michigan and Wisconsin — Johnson Controls said on Monday it was renouncing its United States corporate citizenship by selling itself to Tyco International, based in Ireland, a deal struck in large part to reduce its tax bill, which it said should drop by about $150 million annually.

Monday’s announcement by Johnson Controls is just the latest effort by corporate America to flee the United States. In the last year, Pfizer said it was leaving for Ireland, as did Medtronic, the medical device maker. Coca-Cola’s largest bottling company, after selling its domestic operations, is heading to Britain. (The company, Coca-Cola Enterprises, insists it isn’t for tax reasons.)

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The federal government spends in excess of one trillion dollars each year above and beyond what it collects in taxes. And yet it stands idly by as corporation after corporation leaves the US, taking its jobs and tax payments with it. This is an unsustainable situation, but obviously no one in charge gives a damn.

Our fall will be spectacular ... and extremely painful.

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