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CEO debt letter less than sincere?

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Friday, November 2, 2012
Posted: 9 am ET

We soon will know who will sit in the Oval Office for the next four years, and that man will have to make some quick decisions -- and work with our strong-arm Congress -- to deal with the impending fiscal cliff.

A group of CEOs who are worried about how the current state of financial uncertainty is affecting not only the country but their firms recently signed an open letter urging Congress to deal with the federal debt.

Part of that remedy, some executives acknowledged, will likely be some tax increases.

It all seemed so nice, this looking at the greater good approach.

Not so fast, say several public policy groups.

Americans for Tax Fairness, Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute for Policy Studies say that while the corporate executives' words about debt reduction and tax hikes might sound nice, they don't believe the executives will actually walk their talk.

The organizations point out that the CEOs represent the following.

  • Six companies that are leading proponents of a tax amnesty for corporate profits shifted out of the United States, especially profits shifted to offshore tax havens.
  • Five corporations that paid zero federal income taxes on $62 billion in total profits and received $27 billion in tax subsidies over the last four years.
  • Eight companies that collected a total of $11.8 million in tax breaks last year from the Bush tax cuts.
  • Six corporations that lobbied Congress to pass legislation to allow U.S. companies to dramatically reduce their tax rate on $1 trillion in foreign profits brought back, or repatriated, to the United States.

All told, argue the three organizations, many of the CEOs who put their names on the debt letter led companies that have received billions over the years, thanks to various tax breaks for large corporations and their executives.

Does that mean the signers are less than sincere now in their call for some fiscal responsibility on the part of Congress?

Maybe.

Corporate America's profits have soared in recent years, while companies' contribution to federal revenue has plummeted by 60 percent in the last 50 years, according to data collected by the Office of Management and Budget. Specifically, corporate taxes have declined from 22.2 percent of federal revenue in 1961 to just 7.9 percent in 2011.

"We appreciate that CEOs from some of America's biggest corporations are recognizing the need for more revenues," wrote Americans for Tax Fairness in its blog. "The key test is will they support doing away with their own lavish tax cuts by ending Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent and will they support corporate tax reform that raises substantial new revenues."

With time literally running out, stay tuned to see just how much of the fiscal cliff solution corporate and individual taxpayers will bear.

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