There’s a janitor who lives in a studio apartment just outside of Stevens Point, Wis. He cleans the math and science buildings at a state university, a job he’s been doing for about 18 months, after a year of unemployment. He’s 43 and last year made $24,622. He doesn’t have kids, so he doesn’t qualify for a child-care tax credit. He doesn’t own a home or a hybrid car — those credits don’t apply to him, either. He hasn’t been enrolled in school since the 10th grade, so he definitely doesn’t qualify for any education credits or deductions. He just learned that Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget has slashed his benefits and that next year he’ll be bringing in about 16 percent less per month. And when he sits down to do his taxes next week, he’ll find that he paid the federal government around $1,400 in 2010.
About a thousand miles to the east, in Fairfield, Conn., General Electric, one of the world’s largest multinational corporations, posted a $14.2 billion profit for 2010. When its accountants were finished working their magic, the company didn’t owe a single dollar in federal taxes.
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.
“People can think what they think,” said Jeff Immelt, GE’s chief executive, in response to a growing anger to this story, first reported last week by the New York Times. What else is there to think, one wonders, but that with the muscle and money of lobbyists and lawyers, with the access and influence built over generations, GE has done not just the audacious but the outrageous. And it is not alone.
Exxon Mobil, for example, made $19 billion in profits in 2009 but paid no federal income taxes. In fact, it received a $156 million rebate from the IRS. Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and was handed a nearly $1 trillion bailout by taxpayers. The list, inconceivably, goes on.
And yet the conversation in Washington hasn’t turned to aggressively closing the loopholes that GE’s lobbyists created for its accountants to exploit. It hasn’t turned toward ending the ridiculous tax breaks on corporate dividends and capital gains that allow hedge fund managers and the very wealthy to pay the government a lower percentage than their middle-class employees. Instead, Congress is debating whether $33 billion in cuts to the social safety net is enough to make the Tea Party happy.
While Republicans in the House have stopped talking nearly altogether about jobs (and have embraced a budget that could cost the economy 700,000 of them, according to Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi), the head of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, someone charged with finding a way to sustained job growth, is none other than Jeff Immelt himself, tax evader in chief. This is a systemic problem that neither belongs to nor can be solved by a single man. But for Immelt to keep his post with the administration now would be bad politics, bad policy and bad messaging. Yet as I write this, it doesn’t look as if he will be asked to step down.