Gold for Executives, Contempt for Taxpayers
Twenty years on, after three presidencies and six Administrations, Section 162(m) stands as a classic example of good intentions leading to bad endings.
Jamie Dimon, the current chairman, president and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, took high heat over his 74% mega-raise, but he’s not at fault. The blame goes to a 1993 boondoggle for bigwigs—a boondoggle that’s cost taxpayers by the billions ever since. Congress should call a halt, and the country’s mood could push it to do just that.
Ironically, the law that launched the boondoggle started out aiming to do the opposite. Lavish corporate pay packages had turned off many Americans as the 1990s began. To fight the trend, the ’92 Clinton-Gore campaign proposed a $1 million cap on the tax deductibility of salaries paid to a firm’s top echelon. Companies have an absolute right to set executive pay. Congress likewise has the right to limit the amount that qualifies as a corporate tax write-off. Once elected, Clinton moved to enact the reform.
The final result—Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code—ended up delivering gold to the corporate elite and a slap in the face to America’s taxpayers. The statute did impose a $1 million deductibility cap on publicly-held corporations, but it also created a huge loophole. It wrote into law what quickly became the most gilded words in the gilded world of executive compensation: "performance-based pay."
As long as the pay meets IRS benchmarks for “performance-based,” its deductibility is unlimited. Boards of directors routinely find ways to hand out mega-million packages of stock grants, stock options, profit-sharing, stock appreciation rights, every imaginable kind of executive sweetener. Twenty years on, after three presidencies and six Administrations, Section 162(m) stands as a classic example of good intentions leading to bad endings.
A 2012 study by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that Section 162(m) is costing the Treasury about $5 billion a year. A fair number of companies ignore the salary cap and pay more in taxes, but that revenue gets swamped by the shortfall from deductible corporate pay. The Treasury’s wounds from 162(m) have festered forever. With inequality soaring, a few in Congress are finally going after a law that works overtime to drive it higher.
In August 2013, Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act. Blunt title, blunt purpose: “This legislation would close a major loophole in current corporate tax law by putting an end to unlimited tax write-offs on performance-based executive pay.” The bill calls for a blanket $1 million deductibility cap. As Senator Blumenthal noted, corporations are free to “pay their executives whatever they wish, just not at the expense of American taxpayers...” (The same thinking, under the heading “Stop Subsidies for Excessive Compensation,” appears in the tax reform plan unveiled late last month by the GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee. That plan takes aim as well at the huge salaries paid out by non-profits.)
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) introduced a House version of the Reed-Blumenthal bill earlier this year. “Most Americans,” the Congressman said, “would probably be surprised to learn that multimillion dollar executive bonuses are currently tax write-offs.”
Most Americans might be surprised, but legislators in both parties know only too well. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) formerly chaired the Senate Finance Committee. As the 2006 chair, he admitted that Section 162(m) “really hasn’t worked at all. Companies have found it easy to get around...It has more holes than Swiss cheese. And it seems to have encouraged the options industry.” Options play a big part in performance pay; in 2009, Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) co-sponsored a bill which would have extended the current $1 million cap to options awards.
Section 162(m) has failed as tax policy, but it does two things to perfection: it runs up federal red ink, and it shows contempt for taxpayers. Better late than never, Congress should act to stop the bleeding and end the long, long insult.
© 2014 Gerald E. Scorse. Scorse's articles on taxes have appeared in publications across the country.
Copyright © 2014 The Baltimore News Network. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.
This story was published on March 22, 2014.
Local Gov’t Stories, Events
Ref. : Civic Events
Ref. : Arts & Education Events
Ref. : Public Service Notices
Books, Films, Arts & Education
Ref. : Letters to the editor
Health Care & Environment
08.15 Monsanto sold banned chemicals for years despite known health risks, archives reveal [immoral capitalism]
News Media Matters
08.18 Climate change will likely wreck their livelihoods – but they still don't buy the science [a willfully ignorant people? or a public conned by oil-industry subsidized news media distortions?]
US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'
08.18 GOP Senator Drowned Out By Cheers for 'Single Payer' at Town Hall [might our 'representatives' understand better if we took their free healthcare away?]
08.18 The United States was never immune to fascism. Not then, not now [2:54 video; “Stupid is as stupid does.” –Forrest Gump]
08.18 Trump's evangelical panel remains intact as others disband. Who are his religious cheerleaders? [“Stupid is as stupid does.” –Forrest Gump]
08.17 Stranding CEOs Too Slow To Quit, Trump Disbands His Own Business Councils [could a wider boycott accomplish resignations or positive change?]
08.16 Mark Ruffalo, Michael Moore Lead NYC Protest Against 'Absolutely Racist' Trump [short video]
08.16 Companies Linked To Mike Pence Seek An Upper Hand In Infrastructure Policy [our Public Infrastructure is at risk of being transformed into Private Infrastructure with tolls ad infinitum]
08.16 Indiana prosecutors want to incarcerate the opioid crisis away [“Stupid is as stupid does.” –Forrest Gump]
08.18 Buses in Seoul install 'comfort women' statues to honour former sex slaves [immoral crimes are hard to forget]
Economics, Crony Capitalism
08.15 Why Are Drug Prices So High? These Politicians Might Have The Answer [especially since the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, BIG money corrupts & controls U.S. government to the public’s detriment]
International & Futurism
08.17 Investment Bank Report Predicts the Cost of Electric Vehicles Will Match Regular Cars by 2018 [pressure is building for electric utilities to become 100% renewable or we'll die]