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TAX NEWS - 2010

Walmart costs public more than employee pensions

After reading the numerous articles and letters to the editor regarding the public employees' pensions, something became apparent to me: All these employees are in the altruistic fields - teachers, firefighters, police, medical schools and universities. If the taxpayers are the reporters' concern, I have to ponder why the reporters aren't concerned with the taxpayers' burden of subsidizing the Walmart workers.

Compared to public employees, who actually pay a percentage of their salary into their pension fund, a Walmart employee costs federal taxpayers around $3,000 in the form of federal public assistance programs. With approximately 1.5 million US employees and growing, this amounts to a total of over $2.8 billion a year or $90 every second, costing taxpayers over $22 billion the past five years.

We have a health care crisis in America. Large corporations, like Walmart, contribute to this crisis by failing to live up to their responsibilities. To increase profitability, paying substandard wages and benefits, shifting costs onto taxpayers by forcing employees to rely on publicly funded health care programs and other public assistance services. Walmart has the greatest number of associates and associate dependents on Medicaid in Ohio, costing taxpayers $44.8 million in 2009. Over 41.4 percent of Walmart's total workforce in Massachusetts used publicly subsidized health care, costing taxpayers $15.5 million in 2008. According to a 2004 study, public assistance used by Walmart associates cost California an estimated $86 million a year.

In 21 of 23 states where data is available, Walmart forces more employees to rely on taxpayer-funded health care than any other employer. When it comes to state and local taxes, Walmart's penchant for cost-cutting extends to paying less than its fair share. This is particularly reprehensible given the current crisis in state budgets. In 2002 Walmart's accounting firm Ernst & Young sold Walmart a plan explicitly intended to reduce their taxes. One of the tax avoidance schemes is called a captive Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in which Walmart pays rent to itself and then deducts that rent from its taxable income. Walmart likely avoided paying $245 million in 2008 using this strategy. By its own admission, Walmart likely owes billions in taxes. Walmart disclosed that they did not pay $2.95 billion in taxes for fiscal year 2009, which they would likely have to pay if audited. Walmart's low prices and low wages cost taxpayers plenty.

So, I ask again, why aren't the reporters covering Walmart's outrageous cost to taxpayers? Is it because the altruistic public employees are union workers? Or is that a rhetorical question?
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