How to Increase Revenue Without Increasing Taxes

Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act earlier this week (Rep. Doggett and former-Sen. Carl Levin introduced a similar bill in the 113th Congress). The bill would strengthen reporting standards for multinational corporations, strengthen various enforcement provisions, and end certain loopholes that allow corporations to avoid paying U.S. taxes as well as “check-the-box rules.” An explanation of these rules can be found here. It would also deal with what’s known as the “Ugland House” problem.

Though most people are aware of the nice beaches in the Cayman Islands, they are probably unaware of the Ugland House. The Cayman Islands is a tax haven for many profitable U.S. multinational corporations, who claim to earn substantial profits there but pay no taxes to Cayman authorities. In 2008, foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational corporations reported they earned $43 billion in the Cayman Islands, which is rather interesting, because this amount is 20 times the Cayman Islands’ GDP. It is simply not possible that this amount could reflect legitimate business activities in the Caymans. This is where the Ugland House comes in.

The Ugland House (on South Church Street in George Town on Grand Cayman) is home to the law firm of Maples and Calder. It is also the legal “home” to over 18,000 corporations, many of which are foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations. The Ugland House serves as nothing more than a mailing address for these corporations—their only contact with the Cayman Islands. Their actual business operations are located in other countries, like the United States. A lot of money, however, is credited to this address. (It is worth noting there is a building in another well-known tax haven that serves the same purpose: 1209 North Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware.)

So far, Congress has been uninterested in doing anything about this tax avoidance problem. The Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act would address this problem by categorizing corporations worth more than $50 million which are managed and controlled in the United States as U.S. taxpayers, no matter where they are incorporated. It is estimated that this act would raise almost $300 billion in revenue over 10 years. While some members appear to think that making U.S. taxpayers pay what they owe amounts to a tax hike, Rep. Doggett and Sen. Whitehouse are to be congratulated on their efforts to curb the flagrant abuse of tax loopholes by profitable companies that can afford to pay their fair share.