The Scott Paper Co. reported worldwide profits of $109 million last year - but claimed in its tax return that the U.S. government owned it money instead of the way around.
The Weyerhaeuser Co. saved about $75 million the same year because of a federal law that alloes it to pay no taxes on half the money it earns selling to timber.
The Great Northern Paper Co. owns 2.1 millions acres of Maine timberland - but pays less than $1 an acre in local taxes on much of its forest property.
The St. Regis Paper Co. assigns lobbyists to Washington, D.C., Augusta, Maine, Albany, N.Y., and many other capitals to brief politicians on the importance of tax loopholes, subsidies and other concessions to the nation's giant timber and paper companies.
As these few examples show, the paper business receives federal and local tax subsides enjoyed by few other of the nation's major industries.
President Carter will soon submit his new tax proposals to Congress.Timber imdustry officials predicts a "struggle." But if history is any guide, the powerful timber lobby on Capitol Hill will manage to retain most of the industry's advantages when hearings and debate begin.
The most lucrative of these - low taxation on the sale of timber and logs - has been on the revenue books since 1944, when Congress overrode President Roosevelt's veto of the measure. Repeated efforts to take away the concession have failed.
The Treasury Department says the provision costs the federal government nearly $400 million a year in lost revenue. Old government studies show that most of the benefits went to a handful of major companies. The studies are now outdated , but govern ment experts say they believe this pattern still holds true.
Corporate analyst - and company officials say that low taxes are a main reason profits of a few major timber companies are above average for corporations. Companies that acquired vast tracts of the nation's forest at bargain prices many years ago - a category that includes most of the major timber firms - are particularly profitable.
By one of the standard measures of an industry's profitability - its net return (earnings) compared with its investment - paper companies rank high. In 1976, they returned earnings of 13.2 per cent on their investments, according to data of the Federal Trade Commission.
The industry's ability to reduce its federal tax bill was a key to this analysts say.
In 1976, paper companies had sales of nearly $40 billion and paid taxes of $13 billion.
The standard corporation tax rate is 48 per cent of earnings, but few timber or paper companies come anywhere near that rate. Some manipulate tax loopholes so efficiently that the government ends up owing them.
They reduce their actual tax rate with deductions that Congress has written into law: capital gains benefits on timber sales; credit for payment of foreign taxes; investment credit, and accelerated depreciation on their mills and equipment.
Weyerhaeuser, an internation timber and paper company based in Tacoma, Wash., earned $412 million before taxes last year. Its U.S. tax liability was about $80 million, or 20 per cent of those earnings. It also paid $32 million to foreign governments.
Scott Paper of Philadelphia ended the 1976 tax year claiming it owned no taxes. It claimed that the U.S. government owned it $12 million. In its report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Scott said that after the deductions were totaled, it had an 11.1 per cent negative tax liability. Worldwide, Scott's tax rate was 2 per cent.
Some of the relief (such as investment tax credits also goes to industries other than paper and timber, but foreign businesses receive several unique benefits.
About 30 states have laws setting local tax rates on timberlands lower than regular property taxes. In Maine, where a third of the state is owned by giant pulp and paper firms, property tax rates run two to five times more than those on forest lands.
State authorities say the lower taxes may be necessary because trees take 30 to 40 years to mature and the return on growing timber might be too low if companies had to pay real estate taxes at the regular rate year after year.
The most controversial benefit, through, is the federal capital gains tax on timber sales, dating to 1944.
When farmers sell wheat, corn or soybeans, or when manufacturers sell inventories, they pay regular income taxes on the earnings. But when companies sell logs, or move them through their paper mills, they get a break. Instead of paying corporate income taxes they figure how much the tres have gained in value since they were planted and pay capital gains on that. Capital gains exclude half the amount from any taxes, and tax the rest at 30 per cent.
The Senate Budge Committee reported last year that "paper and allied products, and timber and wood products claim on disproportionately large amount of corporate capital gain!" In 1972, it noted, 42 aper cent of the taxable income of timber companies was sheltered by capital gains.
The average for all other corporations was 4.4 per cent.
Weyerhaeuser's tax director, Neal high, but he says that is mainly be-Wissing concedes that profits are cause the company is still selling old timber from land purchased cheaply. As costlier new timber is sold, profits could narrow, he said.
Companies say that the law encourages conservation and good foretry practices. They say that the country now has 129 billion cubic feet more timber than in 1944, because companies now have an incentive to let trees grow to maturity.
If the tax breaks were not there, the companies insist, many timber companies would harvest as many trees as possible and convert the land to other uses, such as real estate development or farming.
"If we had to pay the corporate rate we wouldn't be in the tree business very long," said one company official.
Some Treasury Department tax experts agree that a change in the law would have an impact on the paper industry, and possibly on the supply and price of paper.
"Either the price of paper products would go up or you'd have less timbering," said Seymour Fiekowsky, of the Office of Tax Analysis. He said it would propably show any expansion of the paper industry, which last year put more than $3 billion into new investments.
But others say that the capital gains benefits for timber companies subsidize paper companies and paper users, and discourage efforts to reduce waste of paper.
Since governments - particularly the federal government - are enormous consumers of paper it might be difficult to get politicians to remove a subsidy that keeps paper cheaper than it might otherwise be, and that helps politically powerful timber companies make more money in the process.