The stock market's rebound from the financial crisis three years ago has created a potential windfall for hundreds of executives who were granted unusually large packages of stock options shortly after the market collapsed.
Now, the corporations that gave those generous awards are beginning to benefit, too, in the form of tax savings.
Thanks to a quirk in tax law, companies can claim a tax deduction in future years that is much bigger than the value of the stock options when they were granted to executives. This tax break will deprive the federal government of tens of billions of dollars in revenue over the next decade. And it is one of the many obscure provisions buried in the tax code that together enable most American companies to pay far less than the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent - in some cases, virtually nothing even in very profitable years.
In Washington, where executive pay and taxes are highly charged issues, some critics in Congress have long sought to eliminate this tax benefit, saying it is bad policy to let companies claim such large deductions for stock options without having to make any cash outlay. Moreover, they say, the policy essentially forces taxpayers to subsidize executive pay, which has soared in recent decades. Those drawbacks have been magnified, they say, now that executives - and companies - are reaping inordinate benefits by taking advantage of once depressed stock prices.