Can a Labour led Government win the tax debate?

Written By: - Date published: 10:58 am, November 28th, 2017 - 48 comments
Categories: Economy, election 2017, grant robertson, labour, national, Politics, tax - Tags:

Form a committee, form a committee. That’s the standard answer we now have to any tax issue arising in New Zealand, because that is what this government has stated.

Tax cuts are good. That’s the standard answer we get from National. It’s a resoundingly simple message which in part nearly won them the 2017 election, and remains exceedingly powerful in any election.

We now know that it is hard for this Labour leadership to have the courage of its convictions on tax, because a newly-minted leader with all the momentum in the world simply could not face holding onto her position about implementing Capital Gains taxes in the first term, nor a tax on water, despite making regular and clear statements to do so days earlier.

National continues to win the arguments about tax: they own the field.

They are going through the same arguments in the United States, with a massive tax cut package going through government at the moment.

There’s an instinct that tax cuts must lead to economic growth, because they personally feel so good in their direct benefits. Or at least, the idea of them makes us want to feel good about them. The smell of the coffee is better than drinking it.

But National talks a better game than the left on tax.

In 2017 they framed their tax package around helping the family.

“We are investing $2 billion in our Family Incomes Package, and are especially focused on helping low income families with children and steep housing costs get ahead.

Here are the top 4 takeaways of the Package:

1) Increasing the $14,000 income tax threshold to $22,000, and the $48,000 tax threshold to $52,000.

Anyone earning more than $22,000 will receive a tax reduction of $11 a week, or $572 annually. Anyone making over $52,000 will receive a tax reduction of $20 per week, or $1040 annually.

We are putting more money back into the pocket of hard working Kiwis.

2) Removing the Independent Earner Tax Credit of up to $10 a week.

Anyone who used to claim this credit will still receive the funds. It instead is going to through the increase in tax threshold above.

We are making it easier for lower income families to receive tax reductions back.

3) Lifting the Family Tax Credit rates for young children to those of children aged 16 to 18.

Lower income families could expect their tax credit per child to increase anywhere between, $9 to $27 per week, or $468 to $1404 annually, depending on the age of their child.

Roughly 310,000 families will benefit from this change.

4) Increases Accommodation Supplement rates for a two person household to be $25 and $75 a week, while the maximum rates for larger households will increase between $40 and $80 a week.

Lower income families will be receiving more funding for their housing.

Students who are receiving the allowance could receive additional funds up to $20, per week, as well.

In case anyone missed it, the narrative is family, family, family. Families on lower incomes. If they didn’t get so squemish about the word ‘family’ it could have been written as Labour Party policy.

Can anyone detect a similar narrative from the Labour-led government? I can’t, other than the small-c conservative timidity of Minister Robertson, who fronted for killing the tax policies during the election.

Labour’s wind-back of its tax change implementation need not be a fatal blow to their leadership in tax. But it will be if there is no alternative narrative pretty soon. Strangely, the announcement of the terms and Chair of the independent tax working did not say exactly why this working group was needed. What Minister Robertson provided instead was three context-free abstract nouns: “The main goal here is to create a better, balanced and fairer tax system.”

None of those three words mean anything in politics or indeed to the average New Zealander, when it comes to their interests or their family.

He could give some subtext about why a strong and sophisticated country needs a strong state, which runs on tax.

He could give some idea of what fairness really means in deeply practical and concrete terms, like extra packs of Weetbix, or pints of milk, or loaves of bread, or eggs, on the table per week.

He could even stretch himself to talk about redistributing from the very rich to eradicate poverty, mapping it to the Prime Ministers’ own goals against child poverty.

Or even, even, something like tilting the entire economy towards more productive assets that sustain greater wealth and superior jobs, through tax instruments.

But he didn’t.

At the moment, National can look to the election and show that Labour are weak on tax, that the National-aligned farmer lobby beat them easily, and they are fully ready to orchestrate the real estate lobby against them to beat the landlord-focussed taxes too. National have the narrative, they have the resources, and they have the track record to win on the tax issue.

So what can we do to help this Labour-led government to fight back on tax? The first answer is to show that taxes mean we can have nice things. Things that are so nice and so attractive that we want to have our money pulled out of our bank accounts even before it gets there. You can write your own list.

We remain a major attraction to the world. People adore us. They want to be here, visit here, and settle here. When we leave for a while, most of us come back. We need a tax system that sustains how good we really are as a country. When tax goes down we put that at risk. I would start with that collective “we”, in the sentence “we can have nice things”.

That takes the whole conversation away from scarcity, cost tradeoffs, limit pies of schools versus prisons, and the other arguments that the left always loses.

We need to win the argument on tax, well before the tax working group gets underway.

48 comments on “Can a Labour led Government win the tax debate?”

  1. Otto Mann 1

    The faster a capital gains tax is implemented, the better. It should be a SPECULATORS TAX, and rated at 33% at minimum.

    Houses are a social necessity, not a commodity to be traded while families live in cars!

    • Roy 1.1

      Perfect. Re-frame the CGT as a Landlord Tax or something, then NAT’s wailing will appear as hollow as it is.

      • Bob 1.1.1

        So it doesn’t apply to businesses? So rich business owners get richer while hard working Kiwi’s who have bought a rental property as their retirement nest egg get hit while business owner continue to get richer?

  2. One Two 2

    Does lying equate to ‘winning’?

    Discussing taxes without explaining ‘WHY’, is perverse…

    Money, debt (unrepayable debt) , the ‘need’ for taxes etc..

    Would be a discussion worth ‘winning’

    Anything else is deceitful!

    Will the establishment allow such a discussion…

    Continuing deceit, it is then…

    • Ad 2.1

      The left is now the establishment.
      And so therefore is The Standard.

      So let’s get it started.

      • cleangreen 2.1.1

        Yes “Lets do this”

        Tax the rich and corporations now before they block us from levelling the tax burden.

        • Roy 2.1.1.1

          Cinders started the message of ‘we all contribute’ in regard to agri-taxes. Continue it on with all richies. How hard is a slogan?

          • Ad 2.1.1.1.1

            Slogans only work in Opposition.

            In government you have to deliver actual stuff.

            • Roy 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Wasn’t the point about coming up with a slick, easily digestible one-liner? As you say, they Gov is doing the actual work, but they need some help with communication, especially to the unsympathetic.

  3. Psych nurse 3

    The answer is to include a well known Gnat on the committee, if they obstruct and leak you have them for obstructing,if not they then become compliant. A sheep in wolves clothing.

  4. Roy 5

    We’ve got to bite the bullet and separate ourselves from the obscenely-rich. Tax them. Make them pay. Give tax cuts to “us” if need be, but the bulk of where the money should come from is those over 100-or-so-K. And steeply after a half-or-so mill. Drastically after a mill, let alone a bill. I know we’re the left, so we are all about ‘inclusivity’, but come on – if there’s one group we can stand apart from it’s the non-sharing, non-contributing super-greedy.

    That’s the message.

    Corbyn’s rather soft version of “for the many not the few” seemed to resonate. Shaking the “aspirational” ‘we-can-all-be-billionaires’ rubbish is surely a winner?

    (Draco might have something more to contribute here, s/he seemed to proport similar tax philosophy…?)

    • UncookedSelachimorpha 5.1

      100% agree.

      Invariably the tax debate is derailed by the poorer 80% being spooked about paying even slightly more tax on their own modest assets or income.

      Shortcut all that by making it clear that the ONLY people who will pay more tax are the wealthiest 10-20%. Everyone else will be better off (even the top 10% will be better off, by living in a better society of course).

      As you say, make it VERY steep as you go above the top 10% of wealth and income. They can afford it, and that is where so much of the wealth is.

    • It’s not just about going after the super wealthy it’s also about convincing the aspirational middle class (many of whom will have voted for National at the election) that a progressive tax system is the key not only to a robust economy but also to a level of security for their loved ones (grandparents, parents, children and friends) that their own personal success cannot provide.
      Most of the people I work with are very well paid, have private health insurance and send their children to private schools and it becomes very easy for them to consider taxation and public services as a drain on their “hard earned” wealth.
      It is important to remind NZ’s middle class of economic history (why did the boomers do so well?) and also what the future looks like when taxation is incrementally reduced over time.
      Why is Grant Robertson so reticent to make the case, convincingly, for broader and higher taxation? I suspect he may not believe it is a good idea economically or socially and this in a way points to the broken soul of the Labour Party. I do not believe it has yet healed itself or attempted to resolve the contradiction of the destruction it unleashed on NZ’s poor and working class during it’s time in government in the 1980’s. I also fear that when it comes to economics and taxation Jacinda has neither the skill or courage to take a lead on these issues at this time – she will defer to others.
      This inability to confront NZ’s middle class with their own ignorant’s and selfishness may be the sharp and painful rock upon which this new and optimistic government impales itself.

  5. Tanz 6

    It’s a bit of a blast from the past having Michael Cullen heading the tax working group.
    So much for ‘generational change’. It seems that this new Labour govt is really just the old Labour govt from 2008, finally having ‘won’ a fourth term. Heard a Nat MP in the House today alluding that Clark is there in the background also. How very surprising…

    • solkta 6.1

      Well if you heard a Nat alluding to it it must be true.

    • Tricledrown 6.2

      Tanz so why did National make use of Michael Cullen .
      Was it because of his qualifications experience and achievements.
      Tanz your only qualification is being a poorly informed troll.

  6. NewsFlash 7

    For starters, Tax cuts don’t win elections, as we’ve just seen and Howard in Aus offered them up to gain another term in 2004 and failed, Turnbull just offered Tax cuts a week ago, and it’s likely he will be voted out in the next election, most of the Tax changes made by National were to secure another term, as far as the family tax benefits go, the previous Labour govt provided very well, but Key called it communism by stealth and now they’ve been reintroduced.

    Can the country afford Tax cuts? Isn’t that what the working party is going to decide, along with who should receive them, lets not forget Key raised GST without notice, incurring most of the cost onto those who could not afford it, claiming that everyone would be better off, but they weren’t, average workers ended up paying more unless they purchased everything in cash. The predicted revenue from the GST fell well short and hence the ballooning Govt debt.

    I’m OK with being patient on this topic, wait for the outcome of a working party, the Govt has promised a lot for the first 100 days, and keeping those promises is important to them, ROME was not built in a day, and hurrying along only creates errors, they have promised not to introduce any changes until the next election, plenty of time to get it right.

    National will keep harping on about anything and everything, it would not make any difference to level of complaining from them, best thing is that they’re not in Govt now and it will take a little time for that to sink in for most of them, particularly after 9 yrs of total control, the tax reforms they introduced only benefitted the top tax payers, the $20 a week Bill promised barely pays for the increases in the CPI, and only deepens the cuts to social services.

    My view is that a Tax free threshold should be introduced, the first $15k should be tax free, if you earn less than $15k, then you pay no Tax at all, and then progressive tax for balance, the Tax that needs to be considered is the GST, NZ’s version is the most regressive of any country in the western world, very few countries add GST to food or health or education, reduce GST to 10% and adjust the progressive rates to compensate, CGT should have been introduced at least three yrs ago, but the political ideology of the free market has failed most Kiwis wanting to own their own home, an absolute necessity in life is a roof over your head, house prices are far too high and would be almost impossible to bring back to affordability, the best anyone can hope for now is stabilisation of house prices after the horse has bolted.

    The media appear to think that National are still in power and can’t help themselves but to repeat their lies as they have done for so long, the media are also struggling to adjust to the fact there is a new Govt, DEMOCRATICALY elected, whether they like it or not, it took Key some time to train most of the media to NOT hold him to account, it will take some time to get out of their old habits and accept the fact that the majority of Kiwi’s had had enough and elected a Govt that more closely represents their needs and beliefs, it’s only early days so far, and as the polls indicate (not the media) they’re doing OK.

    • Koff 7.1

      Best comment and suggestions I’ve seen yet on tax.

    • Tanz 7.2

      ‘selected ‘ rather than elected, one could also say! MMP chose (or Winston did) not the popular vote.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 7.2.1

        The important thing is to explain that to everyone you meet. That will ensure you win even harder in 2020.

        • Tanz 7.2.1.1

          2020 or less OAB, three years or less, the way its going so far.
          National will be a shoe-in next time, NZ First are gone already and as for the Greens…already in the news again for all the wrong reasons! It’s all good fun to watch, but oh so bad for the aspirational good of the country, the fantastic job that the fantastical Nats did, and they won the popular vote, so the maj. agrees.
          When you are paying petrol and other tax increases soon, don’t forget to thank your beloved govt!!
          The Coalition of the Losers, Ardern did not win anything, she sold her soul to Peters. Must be true, Labour can’t govern without WP!

          • Tanz 7.2.1.1.1

            Also, reading the daily newspapers every day, there are many letters of complaint about the new govt, Winston Peters, MMP, the Manus Island refugees etc. You might like the outcome, but the electorate at large doesn’t like its democratic election result being nicked. All those people in the electorate areas have no representation at all! laugh a minute…

            • mickysavage 7.2.1.1.1.1

              They are all National operatives. Most people are sitting back and giving the Government time to actually show itself.

            • One Anonymous Bloke 7.2.1.1.1.2

              That’s the way Tanz. Pile it on. Make sure everyone knows what winners you are.

      • Muttonbird 7.2.2

        National chose the outcome of the election when they, with the help of a compliant public service, did a dirty politics hit job on Winston Peters.

        Own it.

  7. One Anonymous Bloke 8

    Labour won the 1999 election on a promise to raise taxes.

    Sometimes “can’t” is just shorthand for “don’t want to”.

    • Enough is Enough 8.1

      I agree with what you are saying but the reality is Labour won the 1999 election against a Jenny Shipley train wreck of a government propped up by NZ First and Alliance rejects. The most winnable election in history

      They missed the opportunity of a generation to campaign and act on things that would have resulted in real reform.

  8. Sparky 9

    Why not start by properly taxing corporations, making them pay their fair share? Then focus on ensuring they keep a good portion of their money in NZ rather than shipping it off shore. Then withdraw from the CP-TPP talks as it has NAFTA style potential to gouge more money out of long suffering tax payers pockets. Of course this should happen but my guess is it wont. Until it does Labour will in my opinion look to lefties like me as a somewhat more approachable, watered down version of the Nats, a friend to big business but no friend to the ordinary Kiwi.

    • Bob 9.1

      “Why not start by properly taxing corporations, making them pay their fair share?”
      Exactly, stop focusing on perceived punishment of individuals (increased PAYE) and start closing loopholes around corporate tax.
      If Landlords aren’t allowed to depreciate their assets to offset taxes any more why are corporates able too? This would make a much bigger difference to the overall tax income than raising the tax rate on earners over $150k and would actually resonate with the voting public

    • savenz 9.2

      +1, Sparky and Bob

      Also I’m for a Robin Hood tax. Micro taxes at point of sale on every electronic money going in and out of country and for every purchase from a car to a house to wages to Skycity gamblers, to money flows in company accounts. Everything taxed an amount so tiny most people will not notice (but big corporations then pay their share, Peter Thiel pay’s when he buys his farm in NZ), etc etc. Then use those taxes to lower other things like GST and PAYE for people who actually work and live and pay taxes in this country.

  9. timeforacupoftea 10

    Prime Minister Adern was so positive until she back tracked on water and housing speculators tax, that was a shame.

    She really needs to own her nickname Taxcinda (I AM TAXCINDA) and that is what we are going to be doing changing all taxes.
    Raising taxes on the well paid wages of $150,000 and over.
    Even go on to tax a joint partners whatever the modern terminology is of say $180,000.

    We will also be lowering TAX on the first $20,000 to a big fat zero so our students and Supernatants can live a little more decently.
    Naturally we will be topping up incomes for families with children until the children leave school.

    Tax rates on the above $80,000 earners will rise a little to compensate for the nil TAX on the first $20,000, but they will not pay $1 more than they are paying now.
    The $150,000 earners and over get the same treatment but will get TAXED heaps from then on.

    • Antoine 10.1

      > She really needs to own her nickname Taxcinda (I AM TAXCINDA)

      This is one of the worst ideas I’ve heard.

      Also, have you done the math to calculate how much taxes on personal income over $150K would have to go up, in order to provide a $20K tax free bracket for everyone?

      A.

      • Dv 10.1.1

        Have you done the math?

        • Antoine 10.1.1.1

          Roughly, in my head, and it is alot

          A.

          • Dv 10.1.1.1.1

            Ok down load the number. From you head

            • Antoine 10.1.1.1.1.1

              Sure. Roughly speaking the cost will be $2K per taxpayer. Suppose 1% of taxpayers earn $150K+, then each of them has to pay an extra $200K in taxes. Suppose their mean income is $200K, then their marginal tax rate is 400%.

              A,

              • UncookedSelachimorpha

                Why we need a wealth tax, not just income.

                Strangely the super wealthy get super wealthy without much IRD-declared income.

              • McFlock

                Maths isn’t my strong point, but I think your head might have gotten it wrong.

                looking at the 2017 taxpayer distribution, writing off $2k in tax for every taxpayer on over $20k, and writing off all tax paid by taxpayers on under $20k, that seems to add up to $6bil.
                Currently we get $8Bil off those on 150k or more.

                Oh, and we’d only need an extra $56k off each big earner on average, not $200k.

                That seems to be the counting, anyway, but feel free to pointo ut if I’ve missed an order of magnitude or two lol

                • Antoine

                  My head thought only 1% of taxpayers were on 150K+, but in fact it is 3% (according to your link). I guess I am out of date. Hence the gap between my $200K tax needed and your $56K.

                  But the $8B is kinda irrelevant because that refers to their entire income tax across all tax brackets. timeforacupoftea wants to recoup the lost revenue from the top tax bracket only. So the marginal tax rate in this tax bracket still needs to be in excess of 100%.

                  (I realise some people here would be quite happy with a 100% tax rate on income over $150K)

                  A.

                  • McFlock

                    If I understand the scales correctly (same link as above), the tax on $150k is $40.4k.

                    The average tax paid by people on incomes over $150k is $76.6k, meaning the average tax on income over $150k is $36.2k.

                    That means that the average person with taxable income over $150k is earning $208kp.a. ($150k plus $36k*3 because it’s a 33% tax rate).

                    So based on last years budget figures, the marginal tax rate on incomes over $150k needed to fund a tax break for everyone’s first $20k is the current take (36k@33%) plus the $56k for the low income bracket. Out of $108k. 92/108*100= a marginal tax rate of 85%.

                    Now it’s a marginal high tax rate compared to these days, but it’s not unheard of and it’s certainly logically feasible, rather than your “in excess of 100%” scaremongering.

                    edit: I think that part of where your numbers are off is that 9% of taxpayers don’t actually pay any tax.

                    • Antoine

                      Hi

                      > So based on last years budget figures, the marginal tax rate on incomes over $150k needed to fund a tax break for everyone’s first $20k is the current take (36k@33%) plus the $56k for the low income bracket. Out of $108k. 92/108*100= a marginal tax rate of 85%.

                      $108k is wrong. It should be $58k – the average high earner taxable income of $208k, minus the bracket start of $150k. Then 92/58 = a marginal tax rate of 158%. Not feasible.

                      > your “in excess of 100%” scaremongering.

                      Feel free to chuck an apology my way for this.

                      > edit: I think that part of where your numbers are off is that 9% of taxpayers don’t actually pay any tax.

                      Yes, clearly, and some are only partway through the $20K bracket.

                      A.

                      PS Let’s also remember that if the marginal tax rate increases, then the amount of taxable income in this bracket will decrease. In the limit, with a marginal tax rate of 100%, the taxable income and tax in the bracket would be near nil.

                    • dv

                      AND from the same table
                      there are 108,000 over 150k
                      And they pay 8282 million in tax with works out to approx $77,000 tax each.

                      Which means their ave income would be in the order of 250k each.

                      I am sure that a tax scale could be worked to allow a 20k tax free.

                    • McFlock

                      $108k is wrong. It should be $58k – the average high earner taxable income of $208k, minus the bracket start of $150k. Then 92/58 = a marginal tax rate of 158%. Not feasible.

                      No, because they pay $76k in tax, total. $40k of that is for the income they earn under 150k, so 36k is what they currently pay on their income above 150k.

                      As dv points out, I fumbled the “$208kp.a. ($150k plus $36k*3” bit. It’s 150k + 108k =$258k.

                      The marginal tax rate looks right, though.

                      PS Let’s also remember that if the marginal tax rate increases, then the amount of taxable income in this bracket will decrease. In the limit, with a marginal tax rate of 100%, the taxable income and tax in the bracket would be near nil.

                      Again, your “100% marginal tax rate” is off. And if rich folk want to stop earning money, it frees up opportunities for everyone else to compete. The rich don’t exist in a vacuum.

                    • Antoine []

                      The key points here are:
                      (A) if you want to increase income tax revenue substantually, you gotta start going up well before 150k, and
                      (B) If you advance the top personal income tax rate substantially above the trust and corporate tax rates, you’re not gonna take much money.

                      Anyone actually involved in tax policy knows these things, however.
                      A.

                    • McFlock

                      A) that depends on how substantially you want to raise revenue, and whether there are other policy objectives involved (such as lowering tax for lower brackets).

                      B) that depends on both the trust and corporate tax environments, as well as other regulatory controls. As the recent change in trust law that decimated the tax dodge overseas-owned trusts industry demonstrates.

                      The main point is that now we’re debating the actual merits of
                      timeforacupoftea’s policy suggestion (which I’m sure has a lot of flexibility aroud the specific threshholds and so on), whereas before you were simply saying it was mathematically impossible.

  10. Antoine 11

    > So what can we do to help this Labour-led government to fight back on tax? The first answer is to show that taxes mean we can have nice things

    OK, but to do this you first have to deal to the idea that you can fund ‘nice things’ from borrowing without increasing tax.

    A.

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