Last week, we wrote a blog post highlighting the fact that last year, Boeing paid no federal corporate income taxes despite benefiting from more than $20 billion in taxpayer-funded contracts.  In the post, we mentioned that Boeing CEO W. James McNerney, Jr. took home $27,484,138 in pay in 2012, the most recent year for which pay data was available.

The post drew a number of comments, one of which took issue with perceived criticism of McNerney’s pay. The commenter wrote: “McNerney's salary is high but he also has tremendous responsibility for approximately 200,000 employees. I don't believe he works only 8 hours per 5 days per week [sic]. Probably more like 80 to 120 hours per week.”

Boeing’s McNerney is, in fact, responsible for 168,400 employees; in contrast, President Obama is responsible for nearly 4 million federal uniformed and civilian employees.

We live in a time when CEOs are revered and their extraordinary levels of compensation continue to often be defended.  At the same time, many citizens undervalue the contributions of public servants and elected officials, lashing out at perceived overcompensation of those engaged in public service.

Next month, when Boeing reveals its 2013 executive compensation in its 2014 proxy statement, we will see for the first time (thanks to the Dodd-Frank law) the ratio between the pay provided to Boeing’s chief executive and to the average Boeing employee.

In the meantime, we offer the following comparison of Mr. McNerney’s pay to that of top government officials.

McNerney’s $27.5 million in 2012 pay would be enough to pay the salaries of:

President Barack Obama

$400,000

Vice President Joe Biden

$233,000

Chief Justice John Roberts

$255,500

Associate Supreme Court Justices (8 @ $244,400 each)

$1,955,200

President’s Cabinet (15 @ $201,700)

$3,025,500

Chairman and Members of Joint Chiefs of Staff (7 @ $253,772)

$1,776,404

100 U.S. Senators (@ $174,000 each)

$17,400,000

TOTAL

$25,045,604

These 133 top federal officials could be paid from Mr. McNerney’s pay envelope and we’d still have $2,438,534 left over, which we could use to rehire 43 hard-working elementary school teachers (average pay $56,180, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) who have lost their jobs thanks to the mandatory budget cuts approved by Congress.

Boeing responded to a Huffington Post story on our blog by explaining that most of their taxes last year were deferred because of high levels of investment spending. Boeing spokesman Chaz Bickers told HuffPost: “Our current tax expense has been reduced somewhat in recent years by the very large investment we have made in American jobs, production facilities and research and development for our new airplanes — they are taxes that largely are deferred until we begin to deliver our new airplanes (and get the revenue back from our investment) in high volume at steady rates.”

What Bickers failed to tell HuffPost is that last year, Boeing saved $128 million on its tax bill related to a loophole that allows all corporations, including Boeing, to report to shareholders the low value of stock options at the time they are granted to employees, and to the IRS the much higher value at the time the options are cashed in. Boeing reports the stock-based pay windfall in the Cash Flow report of its Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission under the heading, “Excess tax benefits from share-based payment arrangements.” Boeing’s stock-based pay windfall accounted for the entire $82 million it received back from the IRS in 2013 and then some. In 2012, the stock-option pay loophole saved Boeing $45 million on its tax bill.

According to IRS data provided to the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, the stock option loophole cost the federal government nearly $20 billion in lost revenue in 2010, the last year the IRS calculated losses associated with the loophole. Thanks to this loophole, Facebook got an estimated $16 billion tax windfall when it went public in 2012. The Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) would close this and several other corporate tax loopholes.

Note: Federal salary information is current as of February 2014. Salaries for 2012, the year of CEO McNerney’s pay, would have been lower.

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