实际上很简单。只要能让财务会计准则委员会（Financial Accounting Standards Board）督促所有上市公司公布一项数据，这个问题就会迎刃而解——即公司为指定年份所交纳的联邦所得税税额。要知道，目前，各公司公布了大量的税务数据，唯独把联邦所得税排除在外。
这种改变势在必行。虽然我们可以通过大量的报道、博客、网上评论、报告和Twitter信息对纳税情况有所了解，但是，谁又真的了解最近几个月以来美国公司缴纳公司所得税的详细情况呢？而且，很多报道都是有误的。包括《纽约时报》（New York Times）3月25日的一篇常规报道称，通用电气公司（General Electric）在2010年未缴纳公司所得税。而造成这些报道错误的原因是，报道者混淆了公司用来计算盈利的数据和应向美国国税局（Internal Revenue Service，IRS）缴纳的税款额度。
同样，美国政策研究学会（Institute for Policy Studies）近期发布的《2011企业高管薪酬报告》（Executive Excess 2011 report ）也不可避免的出现了错误。该报告将企业首席执行官的薪酬与公司缴纳的联邦所得税进行了比较（这可真是个很不错的主意）。
“事实上，对于跨国公司和发行无条件认股权的公司来说，其财务报表中上报的‘本期税额’所得税金额不太可能代表其纳税申报单中显示的实际支付所得税额，”密歇根州立大学商学院（Michigan State University business school）高级税务会计专业教授埃德蒙德•奥斯雷称。请注意，其实，大部分大型美国公司都持有股票期权，或进行跨国业务，或两者兼而有之。
事实上，企业总是可以找到数据来为自己辩护。例如，美国移动运营商Verizon就选出几组数据，反驳IPS报告中的有关内容。还有埃克森美孚公司（Exxon Mobil）（我持有该公司的股票）也是用同样的方法，向《华尔街日报》（Wall Street Journal）森•伯尼•桑德斯（佛蒙特州—独立参议员）撰写的专栏报道提出了反证。
My usual journalistic role is to expose wrongdoing, point with alarm, and distill complicated information into clear explanations of what's really going on in the world. I rarely offer specific solutions, because that's not my job -- I'm an observer and critic, not a policy¬maker.
Today, though, I'm going to depart from form and suggest a solution to a problem that's plaguing the current debate about corporate income taxes: too many numbers, too little knowledge.
It's simple, really. Get the Financial Accounting Standards Board to make public companies disclose one number that's currently not required -- the amount of federal income tax they pay for a given year. Companies report plenty of tax numbers, but not that one.
Here's why we need this change. There have been a zillion stories, blog posts, online comments, reports, tweets, and who knows what else in recent months about how much income tax U.S. companies do or don't pay. Many of the pieces -- including the New York Times' agenda-setting Mar. 25 story claiming that GE (GE) paid no U.S. income tax for 2010 -- are wrong, because they confuse numbers that companies use to calculate earnings with the amount they pay the IRS.
That is also true of the Institute for Policy Studies' recent Executive Excess 2011 report comparing chief executives' compensation packages with the U.S. income taxes their companies paid. (A great idea, by the way.)
Both the Times story and the IPS study conflate an accounting entry called "current portion of U.S. taxes" with the taxes a company sends the IRS. But the two numbers are rarely the same.
"For multinational companies and companies issuing nonqualified stock options, it is very unlikely the 'current' income tax expense as reported in the financial statement will represent the actual income taxes paid as reported on the tax return," says Ed Outslay of the Michigan State University business school, a leading tax scholar. Please note that most sizable U.S. companies have stock options, multinational operations, or both.
Scott Klinger, chief author of the IPS study, readily concedes that "current tax" is a "best approximation" rather than the actual amount that companies pay the IRS or get back from it. However, the study doesn't say that.
The Times is less forthcoming. In an Aug. 31 story about the IPS study, the Times, in passing, quoted GE as saying that it paid some federal income tax for 2010. The Times, which declined to comment, hasn't reconciled that with its March ("Its American tax bill? None.") version. Or with a Sept. 11 story that said -- correctly -- that only the companies know how much income tax they pay.
(Disclosure alert: In April, Jeff Gerth of ProPublica and I wrote about GE's tax situation, pointing out the Times' original mistake and making the same points the Times has since made in its August and September stories. The Times deserves credit for evolving. It's nice to have company in what had been a lonely position.)
Adding to the confusion about who owes what to the IRS are numbers from cash flow statements (not to be confused with profit-and-loss statements) that show taxes companies paid in a given year. Alas, taxes paid in a given year aren't the same as taxes paid for a given year. Payments could be for earlier years or future years, or could be estimated taxes paid that year that will be refunded in the future.
You can find a number to support whatever case you want to make. Verizon (VZ) is using selected numbers to rebut what the IPS study said about it. Exxon Mobil (XOM) (in which I own stock) is using selected numbers to rebut a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.).
It would be nice if corporations voluntarily disclosed their actual tax bill so we could have an informed discussion. But even if some decide to do so, most won't.
The obvious and simple solution is to have the Financial Accounting Standards Board require companies to disclose how much tax they paid for a given year. Why doesn't FASB require that now? Apparently because the appropriate parties, whoever they may be, haven't asked.
"The FASB has not received any recent requests relating to the information currently provided about income taxes," says FASB spokesman Robert Stewart. "The FASB is always willing to consider ways to improve the usefulness of financial information for investors."
Okay, I'm requesting. Anyone want to second me?