When U.S. corporations and wealthy individuals use offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes to the federal government, it is an abuse of our tax system. Tax haven abusers benefit from our markets, infrastructure, educated workforce, and security, but they pay next to nothing for these benefits. Ultimately, taxpayers must pick up the tab, either in the form of higher taxes, cuts to public spending priorities, or increased national debt.
Tax havens are countries or jurisdictions with minimal or no taxes. Corporations and individuals shift earnings to financial institutions in these countries to reduce their U.S. income tax liability—costing the federal government $150 billion in lost revenues each year.
Federal taxpayers are not the only victims of offshore tax havens. Tax havens deprive state governments of billions of dollars in badly needed revenues as well. Based how much income is federally reported in each state, and on state tax rates, it is possible to calculate how much each of the state governments lose as a result of offshore tax dodging.
In 2011, states lost approximately $39.8 billion in tax revenues from corporations and wealthy individuals who sheltered money in foreign tax havens. Multinational corporations account for more than $26 billion of the lost tax revenue, and wealthy individuals account for the rest.
Some of the largest companies in the United States use tax havens, including many that have taken advantage of government bailouts or rely on government contracts. As of 2008, 83 of the 100 largest publically traded corporations in the United States maintained revenues in offshore tax havens, according to the Government Accountability Office.
At the end of 2011, 290 of the top Fortune 500 companies using tax havens collectively held $1.6 trillion in profits outside the United States—up from $1.1 trillion in 2009—according to Citizens for Tax Justice.
Federal policymakers must crack down on tax haven abuse, but with Congress often gridlocked, states should act independently to reduce the impact of offshore tax havens on state budgets.