Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Justin T. Golart (J.D. 2012, George Washington), Corporate Tax Incentives And the Equal Protection Clause, 65 State Tax Notes 33 (July 2, 2012):
The argument that targeted tax incentives are unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment is admittedly an aggressive one. Although it’s unlikely to succeed in the near future, strong arguments do exist that could form the basis for a challenge in the future. If the composition of the Supreme Court changes over time to a lineup that is more likely to extend the borders of suspect classifications, small business owners have a strong case that these discriminatory laws should be subject to heightened scrutiny.
In the short term, the more logical approach is to conduct studies and collect data demonstrating that there is no rational basis for states to offer tax breaks to select corporations. A skeptic would likely conclude that tax incentives are more related to continued financial support of elected leaders than they are to job growth and economic development. Although both arguments, in their current forms, are not slam-dunk cases, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United is an excellent starting point for holding corporations to the same standard as natural persons and saying that corporations cannot pick and choose when they wish to be treated as natural persons. To ignore that argument is to accept the consequences of Citizens United that empower corporations without demanding the consequences that hold them accountable.
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