Burger King’s Migration Highlights Flaws in U.S. Corporate Tax Policy

Published August 28, 2014

Burger King’s announcement that it will move its headquarters to Canada has put the spotlight on that country’s tax system. However, the tax benefits of doing business in Canada, as opposed to doing business in the United States, are not well-known.

First, Canada has a much lower corporate tax rate: 15 percent at the federal level plus another 11 percent on average from provincial corporate taxes. Compare that to the U.S. federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent, plus an average state corporate tax rate of about 4 percent.

Two Bites at the Burger

Canada has a territorial tax system, with no additional repatriation tax on foreign profits. The United States has a worldwide tax system, which applies a repatriation tax to foreign profits when those profits are brought back to the United States.

The repatriation tax is basically the difference between the foreign corporate tax rate and the U.S. corporate tax rate, typically exceeding 10 percent. The average foreign corporate tax rate in the developed world is 25 percent. 

The United States is not particularly competitive, in terms of taxing shareholders. Canada integrates its corporate tax with shareholder taxes to avoid double taxation. In the United States it just piles up, so the integrated corporate tax rate on equity-financed investment exceeds 50 percent. 

Piling On

Perhaps less important to Burger King are sales taxes and property taxes, but they still matter to some extent. Canada has a superior sales tax system that largely exempts business inputs. Most U.S. states apply their sales taxes to capital goods. 

Canada has a superior property tax system that also largely exempts business inputs. In contrast, state and local U.S. property taxes often apply to machinery and equipment, and in some states, to inventory. Some states also have capital taxes. 

Putting the domestic tax factors together, Jack Mintz and Duanjie Chen of the University of Calgary found the U.S. marginal effective tax rate (METR) on capital investment is the highest in the developed world, at 35.3 percent.

In contrast, Canada’s METR is about half that, at 18.6 percent. By this measure, Canada has the lowest business tax burden in the G7. 

That is what is causing the corporate inversions. The solution is tax reform, particularly corporate tax reform.

William McBride ([email protected] ) is chief economist at the Tax Foundation. Used with permission of the Tax Policy Blog: http://taxfoundation.org/blog/how-much-lower-are-canadas-business-taxes