Reports

Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Tax

The Hidden Cost of Offshore Tax Havens

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.

Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Budget

Transparency in City Spending

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility.
Cities across the country have been moving toward making their checkbooks transparent by creating transparency portals and posting recipient-specific spending data online. Currently, 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.  Online checkbooks in most cities are searchable, making it easier for residents to follow the money and monitor government spending.
Following our earlier studies of government spending at the state level, this report evaluates the progress of America’s 30 largest cities toward “Transparency 2.0” – a standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility. Twelve scoring criteria were used to measure the breadth of information each city provides on-line and the information’s searchability. Since the deployment of city resources is intimately linked to providing everyday quality-of-life services for constituents, these criteria also include how well cities enable residents to make and track service requests online. Based on these findings, we then assigned each city a number grade from zero to 100 and a corresponding letter grade from “A” to “F.” (See Table ES-1 for the list of cities and grades. See Appendix D for the methodology.)
Out of America’s largest cities, three stand out as leaders in online transparency – earning “A” grades based on our criteria.
Over the next year, America’s other large cities should improve their transparency websites, providing their residents with greater access to information about city spending decisions. Some cities may want to take advantage of New York City’s open code to adapt functionality without paying outside programmers.

Report | WashPIRG | Democracy

Subsidizing Bad Behavior

BP’s recent $4.5 billion legal settlement with the Justice Department for its misdeeds in the Gulf oil spill was historic for being the largest ever criminal settlement.  But it was historic for another reason as well—none of it is allowed to be tax deductible.  Unfortunately, too many settlements for wrongdoing end up as tax deductions.

Corporations accused of wrongdoing commonly settle legal disputes with government regulators out of court. Doing so allows both the company and the government to avoid going to trial and the agency gets to appear as if it is teaching the company a lesson for its misdeeds. However, very often the corporations deduct the costs of the settlement on their taxes as an ordinary business expense, shifting a significant portion of the burden onto ordinary taxpayers to pick up the tab. Especially when Congress is struggling to reduce budget shortfalls, every dollar that corporate wrongdoers avoid paying by deducting a settlement must be made up for through higher tax rates for others, cuts to public programs, or an increase in the national debt.

Taxpayers should not subsidize BP’s recklessness and deception in the Gulf, big banks’ costly tampering with interest rates in the Libor scandal, or other wrongdoing.

The law clearly states that punitive penalties and fines issued by government agencies are not tax-deductible, but agencies that negotiate settlements all too rarely make clear what portion of a settlement should be regarded as punitive. Corporate tax lawyers can take advantage of this ambiguity by acting as if none of the settlement was meant to be punishment for misdeeds. The Internal Revenue Service is ill prepared to challenge these claims, and taxpayers end up holding the bag.

To help ensure that corporate wrong-doing is not publicly subsidized and that taxpayers are not saddled with the burden, U.S. PIRG offers the following policy recommendations that could save billions of dollars each year.

Report | WashPIRG | Tax

What America Could Do with $150 Billion Lost to Offshore Tax Havens

Many corporations and wealthy individuals use offshore tax havens—countries with minimal or no taxes—to avoid paying $150 billion in U.S. taxes each year.

Companies that do business in the U.S. but use offshore tax havens to avoid taxes—such as Microsoft, Exxon Mobil, and Bank of America— benefit from their access to America’s markets, workforce, infrastructure and security. Shirking the taxes that pay for these benefits violates the basic fairness of the tax system. By shielding their income from U.S. taxes, corporations and wealthy individuals shift the tax burden to ordinary Americans, who must pick up the tab in the form of cuts to public services, more debt, or higher taxes.

The $150 billion lost annually to offshore tax havens is a lot of money, especially at a time of difficult budget choices.

Report | WashPIRG | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2012

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

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