Measure to Crack Down on Offshore Tax Evasion Could Be Used to Help Pay for Health Care Reform

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Senator Levin to Offer Tax Haven Legislation to Help Pay for Health Care Reform

This week, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan indicated that he will offer a measure to crack down on offshore tax evasion as a revenue-raiser to help pay for health care reform.

The Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act

The measure Senator Levin plans to offer is one he introduced earlier this year, along with four co-sponsors, as a stand-alone bill called the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (S.506). It would enact important new rules to deter offshore transactions designed to evade U.S. income tax.  Rep. Doggett introduced the same measure in the House the next day, with 59 co-sponsors (H.R. 1265). A description of the bill’s provisions is available here.

When the bill was originally introduced, Sen. Levin said “our bill provides powerful tools to end offshore tax haven and tax shelter abuses [which] contribute nearly $100 billion to the…annual tax gap.” Sen. Levin said, “With the financial crisis facing our country today and the long list of expenses we’re incurring to try to end that crisis, it is past time for taxes owing to the people’s Treasury to be collected.  And it is long past time for Congress to stop tax cheats from shifting their taxes onto the shoulders of honest Americans.

Paying for Health Care Reform with the Tax Haven Bill

A preliminary projection by the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the legislation would raise $29.8 billion in revenue over ten years. The ultimate amount of revenue may be many times that. Because these assets and income are not reported to the IRS, the true magnitude of the revenue loss is a mystery.

Attaching the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act would be a progressive way to help pay for health care reform because it is generally wealthy Americans that are able to take advantage of tax havens. (See CTJ's additional suggestions for progressive ways to pay for health care reform.)

The Tax Haven Problem

It is estimated that the international tax gap — the amount of taxes American companies and wealthy Americans evade through offshore tax activities — is as much as $100 billion per year.

U.S. citizens and residents are taxed on all their income, whether it is earned here or abroad. If a foreign government also taxes the income, that tax may be credited against their U.S. tax.

Wealthy taxpayers are able to avoid paying U.S. taxes that they legally owe by moving assets and income offshore to what are known as “tax havens.”  Tax havens are offshore jurisdictions that have low or non-existent income taxes as well as bank secrecy laws that they use to justify being uncooperative with investigations by tax authorities from other countries. Evading U.S. income tax by using tax havens is illegal and U.S. citizens that do it are subject to civil and criminal penalties, including possible prison terms.

The U.S. government’s investigation of banking giant United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) revealed that as many as 52,000 accounts there are owned by Americans. That’s just one bank in one of the dozens of offshore financial centers. Several UBS account owners have already pled guilty to tax evasion.

The latest plea came Tuesday when a Seattle area man, a former sales manager for Boeing, appeared before the court in connection with his plea agreement. Roberto Cittadini faces possible criminal penalties of three years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. He has already agreed to a civil penalty for failure to file a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) of up to one-half of the maximum balance of his offshore accounts which at one time contained as much as $1.9 million dollars. The great irony of this particular case is that since Boeing is a multi-billion dollar contractor for the U.S. government, part of Cittadini’s salary was paid by the U.S. government. He moved that money outside of the country to invest it and avoid paying U.S. income tax on the investment earnings.

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