A Stealth Tax Subsidy for Business Faces New Scrutiny
By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH and LOUISE STORY, The New York Times
Published: March 4, 2013
(T)he ability to finance a variety of business projects cheaply with bonds that are exempt from federal taxes – has not only endured, it has grown, in what amounts to a stealth subsidy for private enterprise.
In all, more than $65 billion of these bonds have been issued by state and local governments on behalf of corporations since 2003, according to an analysis of Bloomberg bond data by The New York Times. During that period, the single biggest beneficiary of such securities was the Chevron Corporation, which issued bonds with a total face value of $2.6 billion, the analysis showed. Last year it reported a profit of $26 billion.
In 2005, Congress created a similar program to spur rebuilding in areas of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. The Times’s data shows that much of the bond proceeds went to the oil and gas industry, or to showcase projects like hotels or the Superdome. In 2008, Congress passed the Heartland Disaster Tax Relief Act, a bond program to help 10 Midwestern states hit by flooding and tornadoes. The goal was to help businesses rebuild their destroyed property. But by the time the program was set to expire at the end of last year, the criteria had been expanded to include new businesses.
One of those businesses was Orascom Construction Industries of Egypt, which raised $1.2 billion of tax-exempt bonds to build a fertilizer plant in Iowa. Another was the Fatima Group of Pakistan. In December, a Fatima subsidiary raised $1.3 billion, tax-exempt, to build a fertilizer plant in Mount Vernon, Ind.
But weeks later, Indiana received alarming news: Pentagon officials said that fertilizer from Fatima’s operations in Pakistan had been turning up in Afghanistan, in homemade bombs used against American troops.