For all its whining and teeth-gnashing about President Donald Trump over things like immigration policy, repealing net neutrality, and restricting LGBT rights, Silicon Valley stands to reap huge gains from the GOP tax reform plan.
As currently written, both the House and Senate tax bills give the tech industry everything they wanted, and then some. This includes preserving the carried interest loophole, which allows venture capitalists and hedge funds to pay a lower tax rate on their income, as well as lowering the overall corporate income tax rate. But even more significantly, Republican tax plans would allow corporate America to bring its income earned overseas — a pile of cash estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion — back into the country during a one-off repatriated tax “holiday.”
Here are the details of the three big wins that Silicon Valley will get out of the Republican tax plans:
Bringing billions home
Among American companies, Silicon Valley has more money stored overseas than anyone else. Of the $1.84 trillion stored by U.S. corporations overseas at the end of 2016, five tech companies alone — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco — held $594 billion, according to Moody’s. And if either the House or Senate tax bills make it through Congress and onto Trump’s desk, then those companies will get to pay a tax rate on that offshore cash pile that’s several times lower than what they otherwise would have paid.
Under the House tax plan, the repatriated holiday rate would be 14 percent for liquid assets and 7 percent for everything else; in the Senate bill, those numbers are 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
Way lower taxes
Presently, the corporate income tax rate in the U.S. clocks in at around 39 percent, and tech executives like Apple CEO Tim Cook have whined about it for years, suggesting that the rate is too high, and that it stifles job creation.
But many tech companies already pay much lower effective rates, according to Scott Kessler, a tech industry analyst with CFRA Research, who cited S&P Global Market Intelligence data. For the last 12 months, Apple has paid a 24.6 percent tax rate. Google parent company Alphabet paid 19.3 percent, and Microsoft paid 9 percent.
“For the large tech companies, the overall reduction to the corporate tax rate is not nearly as important as this proposed reduction in the tax on repatriated foreign earnings,” Kessler said.
The last time the U.S. instituted a corporate tax holiday in 2004, a House subcommittee later found that it had cost the U.S. Treasury $3.3 billion. The authors of the report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations called it a “failed tax policy” that reduced over 20,000 fewer American jobs, and noted that the money used from the holiday was not used to invest in America, but was instead issued back to investors in the form of stock buybacks or dividends. And because it was such a rip-roaring success at keeping billions of dollars out of the hands of the U.S. government, it only incentivized companies to store even more cash abroad — requiring another repatriation holiday to allow companies to spend it as they wish now.
No strings attached
This time around, Silicon Valley figures including Tim Cook and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff have said that they support attaching strings to repatriated money — such as requiring it to be invested in American infrastructure (which was something candidate Trump said on the campaign trail in 2016). But that may not be possible.
“As much as there were discussions and comments from President Trump as a candidate and others that companies would be required or encouraged to make investments, there’s no sign of that in any such legislation that I know of,” said Kessler, who previously worked as a telecom lawyer representing Time Warner and Disney. “It’s very difficult to force companies to use this kind of capital in a certain way.”
When reached for comment, tech companies either declined to comment or directed VICE News to their trade group the Internet Association, which in turn referred to the CTA; this includes Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. An Apple spokesperson pointed to previous interviews in which company executives praised the tax reform process and expressed support for lower taxes and a more “simplified” system.
Free money for venture capitalists
Beyond repatriation, there are other goodies in the Republican tax bills for Silicon Valley. Venture capitalists can look forward to the preservation of the carried interest loophole, which allows investors to pay lowered tax rates on a sizeable portion of their income; Congress has previously estimated that this loophole costs the government about $2 billion in taxes every year.
And although Silicon Valley has largely left the heavy lifting on tax reform to Wall Street, tech companies have used their 546 registered Washington lobbyists to flex their muscles as necessary. For example, tech industry heavyweights like investors Fred Wilson and Ron Conway expressed dismay over language in the Senate tax reform plan that would have taxed the equity options given to startup employees, even if those options had not yet been exercised.
Within 48 hours, the Senate Finance Committee relented, and removed the provision from its bill.