Bernie Sanders: It's a "disgrace" that Amazon, Netflix "pay nothing" in taxes

By Aimee Picchi

/ MoneyWatch

Sanders tax returns confirm he's millionaire

Bernie Sanders isn't letting a new focus on his own tax status as a millionaire deter him from bashing corporations including Amazon and Netflix that paid no taxes last year, calling the new tax overhaul a "disgrace" and noting that "millions of people today are paying actually more in taxes."

The Vermont senator and presidential candidate, speaking at Fox News town hall event on Monday, pointedly made the criticism on Tax Day, when taxpayers must file their taxes for their previous year's income unless they file for an extension. His comments come on the heels of a report that found 60 Fortune 500 companies paid no taxes on a total of $79 billion of profits earned in 2018.

"Amazon, Netflix and dozens of major corporations, as a result of Trump's tax bill, pay nothing in federal taxes. I think that's a disgrace," Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said.

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Sanders also tweeted that the number of profitable companies paying no taxes has doubled, citing the tax overhaul signed into law by President Donald Trump at the end of 2017 as a cause.

In an emailed statement, an Amazon spokesman said Amazon "pays all the taxes we are required to pay in the U.S. and every country where we operate, including paying $2.6 billion in corporate tax and reporting $3.4 billion in tax expense over the last three years."

The Amazon spokesman added, "Corporate tax is based on profits, not revenues, and our profits remain modest given retail is a highly competitive, low-margin business and our continued heavy investment."

A Netflix spokeswoman said in an email that it is "inaccurate to say that we paid $0 in federal income taxes in the U.S. in 2018. Our effective tax rate in 2018 was reduced by a number of items typical of many other companies, including adjustments for 2017 tax reform."

She added, "We expect our tax rate to be significantly higher in 2019."

Amazon taxes

The 60 companies that didn't pay taxes last year, including tech giants such as Amazon and Netflix, relied on a number of legal strategies to eliminate their taxes, according to the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. At the same time, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act slashed the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, a reduction that critics say make it easier for corporations to reduce their tax bill altogether.

"These tax cuts were not made for the vast majority of the American people, they were made for the wealthy and large corporations," Sanders wrote on Facebook on Monday, the same day he released a decade's worth of tax returns that show he has earned seven figures in recent years, largely due to sales of his 2016 book, "Our Revolution."

To be sure, individual taxpayers rely on tax avoidance strategies like deducting mortgage interest and claiming tax credits in order to reduce their tax bills. And corporations are relying on similarly legal techniques, such as tapping accelerated depreciation, a tax break that permits companies to write off the cost of their capital investments.

Elizabeth Warren

Other presidential candidates chimed in on the fairness — or perceived unfairness — of the tax code. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is also running for president, tweeted that "if you paid one dollar in taxes on #TaxDay, you paid more than Amazon, Chevron, and Eli Lilly – combined."

She called the system "rigged."

That means if you paid one dollar in taxes on #TaxDay, you paid more than Amazon, Chevron, and Eli Lilly – combined.

When giant corporations contribute nothing while hard-working families pay their fair share, that’s a rigged system.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 15, 2019

American taxpayers tend to view the tax overhaul with skepticism, with about 7 of 10 taxpayers saying they either saw no change or are paying more in taxes as a result of the new tax code, according to a CBS News poll. With the provisions taking effect last year, taxpayers tallied up the impact on this year's tax returns, leaving some wondering what happened to the "massive" tax cuts touted by Mr. Trump and GOP lawmakers.

"These tax cuts were not made for the vast majority of the American people, they were made for the wealthy and large corporations," Sanders wrote on Facebook on Monday.

First published on April 16, 2019 / 1:36 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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