A solution for our corporate tax debate

By:  Allan Sloan

My usual journalistic role is to expose wrongdoing, point with alarm, and distill complicated information into clear explanations of what's really going on in the world. I rarely offer specific solutions, because that's not my job - I'm an observer and critic, not a policymaker.

Today, though, I'm going to depart from form and suggest a solution to a problem that's plaguing the current debate about corporate income taxes: too many numbers, too little knowledge.

 

It's simple, really: Get the Financial Accounting Standards Board to make public companies disclose one number that's currently not required - the amount of federal income tax they pay for a given year. Companies report plenty of tax numbers, but not that one.

Here's why we need this change. There have been a zillion stories, blog posts, online comments, reports, tweets and who knows what else in recent months about how much income tax U.S. companies do or don't pay. Many of the pieces - including the New York Times' agenda-setting March 25 story claiming that GE paid no U.S. income tax for 2010 - are wrong, because they confuse numbers that companies use to calculate earnings with the amount they pay the IRS.

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