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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How much tax does Target pay in Oregon?

There's an interesting little tax-related flap in progress over in Big Sky country, where a prominent state senator wants to make public some basic information about taxes paid by various out-of-state corporations. A bill that would do just that narrowly passed Montana's Senate Taxation Committee on Friday.

Sen. Jim Elliott (D), chair of the Senate Taxation Committee, has been trying for years to gain access to corporate tax return information. This past fall, the Montana Supreme Court ruled against his lawsuit claiming such information was protected under state law. Elliott's new bill would amend state law to make public certain tax return information of publicly held corporations -- name, tax liability, income allocation amounts, and the property, payroll, and sales factors that determine how much of a company's worldwide income gets taxed in Montana.

That would make for one interesting read, wouldn't it? Any chance of an Oregon bill along the same lines getting anywhere in our blue, blue state house?

Comments (10)

I don't know much about this but it sounds like a really good idea. Hell, ignorant me -- I thought that stuff was public knowledge. It makes sense... Now if only you'd suggested this before the bill filing deadline.

Yeee haaah!

Hell of a good idea, if limited to publically held / traded entities!

I don't know what the latest is on Oregon legislation, but a ballot measure was submitted in 2006 - but then pulled when the TABOR measure demanded a concentration of resources.

Here's an early post from Chuck Sheketoff - and a later news update on it.

Elliott lost his lawsuit because his attorney failed to challenge the statute that makes corporate tax records confidential as unconstitutional when judged against Montana's constitutional provision granting the public access to public records.

That said, should Oregon require disclosure? Absolutely, and at least one bill is being introduced this session (bills seem to be tied up in a Legislative Counsel backlog).

A measure was being circulated last year for the 2006 ballot that would have accomplished disclosure.

See this page with references to materials on corporate disclosure. OCPP has an FAQ explaining the arguments for corporate disclosure here.

Last, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities just published STATE CORPORATE TAX DISCLOSURE: THE NEXT STEP IN CORPORATE TAX REFORM (PDF) which folks should read.

Terrible idea! I certainly hope tax return information like this never becomes public information.

"Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands."—Judge Learned Hand

Jack, isn't tax information public information? I know I've seen some corporations and elected office holders release their tax statements (I think Bush and Cheney do, I know I read that every year). But is it an issue of how public taxpayer dollars flow that forces the disclosure?

I mean, isn't it possible for an investigative reporter -- or blogger -- to get that with a FOIA? Or does WalMart have to have received some amount of public money?

Er, I mean Tar-jayyy, not WalMart.

isn't it possible for an investigative reporter -- or blogger -- to get that with a FOIA?

Not from any government source. Tax return information is, by law, confidential.

The public companies report their tax liabilities in a general way on their financial statements, filed with the SEC, but there's no state-by-state breakout that I've ever seen.

The important thing isn't how much tax they pay. What's important is they have a unionized workforce.

My organization, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, has done a lot of work trying to extract useful tax-related information from the documents these companies file with the SEC, and it's no picnic. RE state-level taxes, what you can get right now from these documents is an aggregate nationwide total amount of state corporate tax payments-- but for a multi-state corporation doing business in even four or five states, this is basically useless information for evaluating any particular state's corporate tax. So what Elliott is proposing would help a lot.
By the way, here's a link to a brand new report on why state corporate tax disclosure would be a good thing: http://www.cbpp.org/2-13-07sfp.htm

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