Reading companies’ annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission is a reliable cure for insomnia. Every so often, though, there is a significant revelation in the paperwork. This year, one of the most important revelations came from Microsoft’s filings, which spotlighted how the tax code allows corporations to enjoy the benefits of American citizenship yet avoid paying U.S. taxes.
According to the SEC documents, the company is sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore. That amount of money represents a significant spike from prior years.
To put this in perspective, the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budget of the company’s home state of Washington.
The disclosure in Microsoft’s SEC filing lands amid an intensifying debate over the fairness of U.S.-based multinational corporations using offshore subsidiaries to avoid paying American taxes. Such maneuvers — although often legal — threaten to significantly reduce U.S. corporate tax receipts during an era marked by government budget deficits.