Union members and activists in costumes demonstrate at Whole Foods in Portland for corporate tax transparency. | Courtesy of MSEA-SEIU
Originally published in the Maine Beacon on April 17, 2023
Members of the Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989 demonstrated outside Whole Foods in Portland on Saturday to shine a light on how much big corporations pay, or don’t pay, in state taxes.
The weekend event ahead of Tax Day on Tuesday was intended to educate the public about new legislation being considered in Augusta, LD 1337, sponsored by Rep. Ann Matlack (D-St. George), which would require corporations in Maine to disclose the amount they pay in state income taxes and the amount they receive in state subsidies.
“We know multi-billion dollar corporations avoid taxes at the national level, but we do not know the full extent,” said MSEA-SEIU president Dean Staffieri. “The lack of transparency affects Maine workers and families, as they face the pressures of inflation and rising costs of living. The revenue from these taxes could be used instead to invest in healthy and resilient Maine communities, increase capacity for public services, and help ensure that the state remains a place with unrivaled natural beauty, vibrant downtowns, and a safe place to raise families.”
Corporate tax transparency bills have been introduced in several other states in response to new details about how the most profitable U.S. corporations have found ways to shelter their money from federal income taxation. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, at least 55 of the largest corporations in America paid no federal corporate income taxes in 2020 despite collectively earning almost $40.5 billion in income.
The amount corporations pay in state taxes is even more opaque, although it is estimated that Maine gives away over a billion dollars in tax breaks to businesses each year.
To be transparent to their investors, corporations are required by law to report profit and loss information to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but there’s no such requirement at the state level. This means shareholders can assess the financial health of a company before they invest in it, but the same opportunity is not afforded to Maine taxpayers who subsidize businesses with their tax dollars.
Matlack’s bill is opposed by the state’s largest business lobbies. Representing the restaurant industry in a public hearing earlier this month, Nate Cloutier of Hospitality Maine called the measure “an egregious violation of corporate privacy.”
“Supporters look to achieve public dissection of all businesses with the hopes of finding some commonalities in tax filings where businesses catch breaks, and then will advocate for changes that remove those in the future,” he said. “That is about as anti-business as it gets.”
Workers on Saturday said that passing LD 1337 is essential to laying the groundwork for getting large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. With corporations receiving untold amounts in tax gifts, middle- and low-income taxpayers bear the brunt of funding state and local governments to provide basic services to residents, including K-12 education, child care and elder care, maintenance of roads and bridges, and public and mental health.
“As Tax Day approaches, we are bringing light to all the businesses and corporations who don’t pay their fair share of taxes,” said Kevin Russell, an eligibility specialist for the State of Maine and a member of MSEA-SEIU. “LD 1337 would make sure that funding stays in the state and funds departments like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and make sure workers like myself are able to feed our families.”
Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at email@example.com.