General Motors, as we all know, was bailed out by the federal government and completely restructured into a new company.

Yet, while GM once again is publicly traded, the federal largesse will continue for years. The Wall Street Journal reports GM does not have to pay any federal taxes on its next $45 billion in income.

In a stupefying ruling, the Internal Revenue Service determined that any company that received money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program would be exempt for a pre-determined amount of income tax.

The logic: By exempting these companies, they will be more attractive to investors, helping them get back on their feet.

But is there any evidence that GM needs this kind of help? Through the first three quarters of this year, the auto maker pulled in nearly $100 billion, earning profits of over $6 billion.

This, despite the fact its home market is running at an abysmally low level of sales. In other words, GM is likely to become even more profitable in the coming years. Indeed, it brags it could earn a jaw-dropping $19 billion in profits in one year if everything goes its way.

Meanwhile, if we’re to believe the polls, most Americans still are furious that GM was bailed out in the first place.

Commentary

Many U.S. consumers refuse to buy a car from “Government Motors.” Well, wait until they get wind of the fact that GM is not paying any income taxes. That’ll make them madder, which will hurt GM’s chances of regaining market share.

The country is going through terrible economic times that only are going to get worse.

Many cities, counties and states are on the brink of bankruptcy, and large numbers of state employees, including teachers, policemen and firemen, are going to lose their jobs next year. That’s going to be an ugly backdrop for that income-tax exemption.

But it goes deeper than that. General Motors is an iconic emblem of U.S. industrial might. It’s part of the character of the American psyche. But just as GM helped make America, make no mistake about it: America made GM.

It makes no sense for a corporation to benefit from everything this country has to offer without paying its fair share, especially with the country involved in two wars.

If GM still were teetering on the brink, that would be a different story. But it’s emerged from bankruptcy with a strong balance sheet and impressive cash flow. It has a superb line-up of vehicles, excellent quality and leading-edge technology. Why should an auto maker like that be exempt?

GM could throw that “Government Motors” monkey off its back in one fell swoop. It could very publicly announce that it insists on paying its fair share of taxes as part of its thanks to the American people for bailing it out.

Look at how well Ford fared in the court of public opinion by eschewing government handouts. Here’s GM’s chance to earn the same kind of accolades.

John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, and “Autoline Daily,” the online video newscast.