The biggest companies in Florida -- including Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation -- pay less in state taxes than the 5.5 percent rate they should. So says a new study released by the nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida. The study says that 13 of Florida's Fortune 500 corporations paid an average 2.7 percent rate in corporate taxes between 2011 and 2013.
This could be because Florida has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the nation. But Integrity Florida says this is something the public should know about and calls for disclosure of state and local tax revenue paid in certain situations.
In all, the 13 companies made $35.1 billion in estimated corporate profits during the period while paying $945.7 million in total estimated corporate profits taxes. In contrast, taxpayers paid more than $2.4 billion to ten of Florida's 17 top Fortune 500 corporations for state government contracts between those years.
Basically, therefore, taxpayers gave the largest, most profitable companies in Florida more public money through government contracts and subsidies than those companies paid back in state taxes.
The study, titled "Subsidizing Corporate Tax Dodgers" and written by Integrity Florida's Ben Wilcox, Alan Stonecipher, and Dan Krassner, also calls for Florida lawmakers to implement budget transparency recommendations and to consider adopting some form of corporate profits tax disclosure act.
Any company looking for a government contract or taxpayer-funded subsidy should be required to publicly disclose its profits tax rate and amount of state and local tax revenue paid during the life of the contact, the study says.
For its part, AutoNation paid an estimated 4.3 percent average state tax rate between 2011 and 2013. Publix Super Markets Inc., based in Lakeland, paid an estimated 3.6 percent, according to the study.
Moreover, Integrity Florida says these companies have been able to take advantage of low corporate profit tax rates thanks to certain state policies that are in place that also allow the companies to get big government contracts and subsidies. These policies, the study says, were put in place thanks mainly to significant lobbying and campaign contributions. Florida corporations spent more than $22 million in those contributions between 2012 and 2014, according to the study.
As ever, Integrity Florida is calling for these contributions to be fully disclosed and available to the public.
During his inaugural speech last month, Gov. Rick Scott promised to "cut another $1 billion in taxes in the next two years and continue to roll back the corporate income tax. In his 2011 inaugural speech, Scott similarly promised to eliminate the tax altogether.
"The legislature has not gone along with his desire to end it," the study says. "But it did increase the amount of profit exempted from the tax from $5,000 to $25,000 in 2011 and then to $50,000 in 2012."
You can read the full study below.