On tax day, progressive advocates call for corporate accountability in Tallahassee

Bills that would address Florida’s tax system, which allows companies to avoid paying taxes, are going nowhere this year

By: - April 18, 2023 11:19 am

Jackson Oberlink with Florida For All speaking to reporters at the Capitol on April 18, 2023 -also shown is Tessa Petit with the Florida Immigrant Coalition (left) as well as Dem. Rep. Anna Eskamani, The Rev. Russell Meyer, and Malik Gary with the Tallahassee Dream Defenders (photo credit: Mitch Perry)

April 15 having fallen over the weekend, Tuesday officially was designated as Tax Day, when individual income tax returns are due with the federal government. To mark the occasion, Florida progressives held a news conference to blast Florida’s tax system, in which the overwhelming majority of corporations pay absolutely no income taxes.

Orlando Democrat Anna Eskamani said during the event in the Capitol’s Fourth Floor Rotunda that she paid about $2,000 to the IRS over the weekend, and noted that as “everyday people, and especially those of low wealth, we pay more of our annual income to taxation proportionally than some of the wealthiest individuals and some of the wealthiest corporations.”

There is certainly documentation backing up that statement.

In a special report published in 2019, the Orlando Sentinel reported that 99% of companies in Florida pay no state corporate income tax. A 2022 report from the Florida Policy Institute found that one in five of the wealthiest corporations paid zero state corporate income tax in 2020.

Eskamani has for the past several years proposed legislation that would require “combined reporting” in Florida to address the tax losses the state endures. It would do that by requiring that multi-state corporations combine profits of all of subsidiaries, regardless of their location, into one report.

“We’re not talking about small businesses,” said Eskamani. “We’re talking about the big guys. Out of that 1%, 98% of them do what is called separate reporting. Which is a process that allows them to hide their revenue in different subsidiaries to reduce their tax liability. Everyday people can’t do that. Everyday people don’t do that. Yet, corporations that have the best accountants, lobbyists, lawyers, they’re able to get away with that every single year. And it’s time that we changed that approach by passing combined reporting.”

That’s not going to happen this session, however. Eskamani’s proposal (HB 769) — as well as its equivalent in the Senate sponsored by Orange County Democrat Geraldine Thompson (SB 1144) — aren’t moving at all during the current legislative session.

Bipartisan support

Combined reporting is already a requirement in 28 states and the District of Columbia, according to a 2021 Bloomberg story. And it has bipartisan support nationally and in Florida.

A year ago, Panhandle Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz recalled in an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel that, while he was serving in the Florida House in 2016, then-Miami-Dade County Democratic Rep. Jose Javier-Rodriguez pushed an amendment to make Florida a combined reporting state.  Gaetz opposed the measure then, but he wrote last year that he regrets that vote.

“I was wrong to disagree with him at all,” he wrote, specifically as the The Walt Disney Co. “was among the companies that utilized this tax loophole to screw the people of Florida.”

But legislative proposals to stop Disney or any other major corporation from using those loopholes aren’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to try to penalize Disney for its political disagreements with him.

Eskamani argued Tuesday that if the governor wanted to truly make companies pay their fair share, he would support combined reporting.

“You shouldn’t be building prisons near theme parks, try to take over monorail systems, or appoint demagogues to advisory boards,” she said. “In fact, all you need to do is treat every company the same. … This is absolute garbage for Ron DeSantis to say he calls for things like corporate accountability when he ignores policies like combined reporting.”

Others at the news conference agreed the state would be wise to redirect where it places its resources.

“I’m here to raise the consciousness of our legislators on what their priorities should be,” said Tessa Petit, executive director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “It should be to stop giving tax breaks to big corporations. It should also stop using Floridian tax dollars to traffic immigrants around the country.”

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.