The Utah Corporate Franchise Tax: An Overview

Who Pays? By Size and Major Industry

Getting Our Fair Share

A state does not get to tax all the income belonging to a corporation doing business within its borders, but may only tax that part which represents its share of the income generated by the corporation. Determining the share is, however, fraught with difficulty, since assigning the actual profit created in a state is next to impossible. If XYZ corporation produces composted fertilizer in Wyoming and ships it to a Utah outlet for sale, where does the profit occur? Utah may like to say that since all the sales occur in Utah, the only cost that can be subtracted from Utah sales is the actual cost of production in Wyoming. The firm may want to take as much of the profit in Wyoming as possible since profits are not taxed there, saying the only profit occurring in Utah is the revenue minus the retailing cost minus the price at the border which would include a healthy profit for Wyoming production.

To get around endless arguments about where the "true profit" occurred, the general practice among the states is to divide the total profit according to the firm's relative economic presence in the state. Utah defines the presence, as do many other states, as the average of the wage share, the sales share, and the property share in Utah. (See Schedule J in appendix A for further clarification.) The fraction is called the "apportionment fraction," and when it is applied to an amount, such as "net income" it is called "apportioned net income." In simple terms, an apportioned amount is that amount that is relevant for Utah purposes.

In this report, with the exception of the section on apportionment, all data is reported in apportioned form as it is relevant to Utah.

Our Fair Share of What?

This is obviously not the place to include a treatise on the corporate tax base, since determining what goes in the corporate tax base and what is allowed as a deduction is very complicated, with many fine nuances and details. As a rule, the state tax base is close to the federal base, with minor exceptions, which we will survey here. (The basic federal return, 1120, is also included in appendix A.)

Chart 2.1 plots the magnitude of various income measures on the vertical axis, for tax years 1996 and 1997. The first table shows the raw data and the second shows the relation to federal taxable income. (For a better understanding of the various lines, the state table in the appendix should be studied.) For these two years only about six to seven percent of income escapes taxation due to Utah provisions or due to not being able to tax non-business income generated out of state. The dollar amounts reported in this section are for firms paying taxes on the basis of income rather than due to the minimum tax, since the income magnitudes are irrelevant in determining taxes for these firms. Appendix B shows much more detail as well as separate table for minimum tax firms.


Table 2.2 and the accompanying graph, report the dollar value and share of taxes paid for non-minimum taxpayers, as reported on tax returns for 1996 and 1997. The most obvious fact is that a very large share of taxes are paid by the large corporations. On average, companies with an apportioned income larger than $1 million paid more than 80 percent of the taxes, and those with income less than $100,000 paid less than 5 percent of the taxes.

The large increase in the taxes paid by the top brackets and the actual decrease in taxes paid by some middle incomes may attract unwarranted attention. A glance at the detailed appendix tables for 1996 and 1997 reveal that the number in the top two classes, for example, rose from 103 to 112, whereas the number in the lower incomes generally fell. Thus we are observing the migration of firms between classes as well as the fortunes of firms within a class. As this paragraph demonstrates, a real understanding of corporate tax developments requires consulting the detailed appendices.


Table 2.3 and Chart 2.3 are similar in content and structure, to the previous table, but includes all corporate taxpayers. The non-coded sector makes the largest contribution to corporate tax receipts, paying over $40 million for returns filed in 1997. This figure includes minimum tax payments as well as regular taxes. The manufacturing sector follows next with payments over $29 million, and agriculture is the trailing sector, paying $1.5 million.

Some readers may be confused by the low share for services, since much has been made recently of the growing importance of services. The discrepancy is explained by the narrow definition of services used, which includes basically personal and professional services. When some analysts indicate services are more than 50 percent of the economy, for example, they are generally including the last five major groups. Additionally, many of the growing service firms are not corporations, or are S-corporations which are not subject to corporate income taxes.