Big corporate tax loopholes strain Florida budget

Florida’s large corporations make millions in tax-free profits while college students struggle to scrape by. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

On Nov. 13, the Orlando Sentinel published a bombshell finding about Florida’s corporate tax system: all told, only 1 percent of all corporations in the state paid any income tax in 2018.

According to data from the Florida Division of Corporations and the Florida Department of Revenue, there are about 2.5 million registered corporations in Florida. Only about 220,000 filed corporate income tax paperwork in 2018, and less than a fifth (28,334) of those corporations actually owed any income tax to the state.

There are a variety of reasons why this is the case. One big loophole, for instance, allows companies to pass profits upward to an out-of-state umbrella company and avoid corporate tax altogether. Another comes from the fact that “pass-through” entities, businesses that directly send profits to shareholders, are exempt from state corporate income tax.

Since corporate tax filings are confidential, there are no clear-cut numbers on how much Florida loses from these loopholes, but estimates put them at a high price tag.

A 2019 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, for instance, examined data from the IRS and Congressional Budget Office, estimating that Florida loses $1.1 billion annually from state corporate tax loopholes.

$1.1 billion might seem small compared to the state’s $90 billion budget, but even small funding changes can have big impacts. The entire Florida university system, for instance, received $5.1 billion from the state in the 2019 fiscal year.

Lost revenues from loopholes have direct impacts on college students. Florida higher education funding has been tight for years — state funding fell after the 2008 recession and hasn’t recovered since.

A 2019 study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found that, when adjusting for inflation, per-student higher education funding in Florida was 13 percent lower in 2018 than it was in 2008, a cut of $1,300 per student.

As state higher education funding has faltered, says the CBPP, costs have been passed onto students. Over the same time period, college tuition increased 60 percent at an additional $2,300 annually.

Taken together, these two trends paint an unsettling picture: in Florida, large corporations make millions in tax-free profits while college students struggle to scrape by.

This coming legislative session, the Florida Legislature should put students first. The time is now to close these corporate tax loopholes and fully fund higher education.

Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.