Reincorporation, Renunciation, and a Dose of Reality

There’s more than one way for a corporation to reduce taxes. It doesn’t have to reincorporate itself overseas. It could instead spin off a part of itself into a publicly traded real estate investment fund. As long as the new REIT distributes 90 percent or more of its income to investors as taxable dividends, it would not be required to pay federal taxes. Investors are betting that the telecommunications industry will find the maneuver  especially lucrative. One tax consultant concludes “the technique is now widely available to any company that has real estate.”

For what it’s worth, investment banks will still finance inversions. They’ll collect nearly $1 billion in fees from three years’ worth of inversion deals they’ve facilitated among some of the nations’ biggest companies. They’re paying attention to New York-based Pfizer, for example, whose last effort failed when its purchase offer was rejected by AstraZeneca. CEO Ian Read continues to “look at all types of business development, regardless of size, that we believe would add value to shareholders… There’s no substantial advantage to being a US company…”

So much tax reduction, so much flag waving… arms can get tired. “Corporate deserters.” That’s how President Obama describes companies who pursue inversions. TPC’s Howard Gleckman asks: “Is it OK for US-based firms such as GE or Apple to use aggressive tax planning to minimize their worldwide tax liability, but unpatriotic for US drugmaker AbbVie to purchase the UK firm Shire to minimize its worldwide tax liability? Obama sees a difference. I don’t.” They might increase voter turnout in the midterms, but flag waving and name calling don’t help advance corporate tax reform.

Tax extenders, still dead for now. To the surprise of few, Congress has run out of time to restore those 50-plus expired tax provisions before its August recess. The issue will probably flounder until a lame duck session. The House wants to make many of the provisions permanent, Senate Democrats want to restore all of them but only through next year, and Senate Republicans want to use the bill to repeal an Affordable Care Act tax on medical device makers. Gridlock continues.

Trust that the Highway Trust Fund will be funded this week? Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden is hopeful that a Senate amendment to rely less on “pension smoothing” to offset costs of the House-passed federal highway funding bill will pass the House before Friday. House Speaker John Boehner warned that the House isn’t about to debate any further changes.

What every worker needs to know about another trust fund: TPC’s Gene Steuerle testified before the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee yesterday. He addressed three troubling aspects of an otherwise successful program: unequal justice; middle age retirement; and impact on the young. Gene argues that without reform, questions of fairness, efficiency and adequacy will remain. He cites one fix to Social Security that doesn’t require tax increases or benefit cuts: Encourage people to work longer.

And today on the Hill—the IRS saga continues. The House holds concurrent hearings on the IRS. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s “IRS Abuses: Ensuring that Targeting Never Happens Again” hearing takes place at 9:30. The Judiciary Committee’s “The IRS Targeting Scandal: The Need for a Special Counsel” hearing takes place at 10:00. Decisions, decisions…

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