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Nats raise tax cut expectations

Written By: - Date published: 11:27 am, March 1st, 2010 - 33 comments
Categories: bill english, gst, john key, tax - Tags:

The Nats continue to set very high expectations for the tax changes in the Budget.

Last week Bill English told a conference of wealthy businessmen that the top rate would be dropping from 38% to 33%. That’s an open-ended tax cut, higher as the person’s income rises, so that Telecom’s $7 million CEO will be getting nearly $1000 a day in tax cuts. It’ll cost about half a billion dollars to give these massive tax cuts to less than 10% of taxpayers – over $15,000 each.

At the other end, John Key isn’t proposing that kind of massive cut but he’s still allocating a huge amount of money. Speaking to Grey Power, Key promised both to lift superannuation by 2% at the same time at GST is lifted. The floor for super would remain 66% of the average after-tax wage and Key promised that this would mean another increase on top of the 2%, meaning he is promising to increase the after tax average wage by more than 2%. Key told reporters that increasing super would costs hundreds of millions.

Beyond these specific promises we’ve got the amorphous claim that nearly everyone will be better off as a result of the tax changes. Since nearly a million taxpayers have incomes below $14,000 Key will have to cut the 12.5% bottom tax rate to fulfill his promise. That costs hundreds of millions per cent that is cut.

I remain fascinated to see how Key and English will make tax changes that are revenue neutral, give huge payouts to the wealthy elite, and somehow mean the “vast bulk of taxpayers will be substantially better off”. It’s just a money-go-round after all. How can you make everyone better off with the same amount of money you’ve taken off them?

I can’t see how that’s possible short of magic beans or, more likely, tax changes that aren’t really revenue neutral but are actually funded by spending cuts. But Key has promised he can deliver everything to everyone from the same limited pot of money from increasing GST an closing property loopholes.

He will have to deliver.

33 comments on “Nats raise tax cut expectations ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    On morning report, they reported that Peter Dunne is confident that in the budget the existing loophole that allows personal incomes to be sheltered in trusts while allowing the trustee to still receive working for families will be closed. The estimated savings of this is $300m. It was not stated on morning report, but I would not be surprised if they extended this loophole-closing to other forms of tax-sheltering for benefits, such as student allowance and any other means-tested benefits, which could rack up even more money from those currently abusing the system.

    It seems it would be wise not to second-guess what the government is doing, as they have repeatedly said no firm decisions have yet been made and it is possible that they will manage to achieve what they claim by doing a wider range of changes than we currently know about. I also have an inkling that Key’s careful use of the word “comprehensive” when he said “no comprehensive capital gains tax” actually has some meat behind it.

    One has to wonder, though, if they can stop people sheltering income in trusts for WFF reasons, then surely they could tax this same income at the proper 38% rate, thus demolishing a central plank (to stop tax evasion) of their argument for aligning the tax rates?

    captcha: complex

    • Blue 1.1

      There are several things I don’t get about the tax arguments at the moment.

      If you drop the top tax rate to the same as the trust rate, then people who sheltered income in trusts will still pay 33%, just the same.

      If people are sheltering income in trusts to get WFF, why doesn’t the Govt look at income from trusts when deciding who is eligible for WFF?

      And finally, why not just raise the trust tax rate to 38%?

  2. Pascal's bookie 2

    “I also have an inkling that Key’s careful use of the word “comprehensive’ when he said “no comprehensive capital gains tax’ actually has some meat behind it.”

    Me too. The way he says it is similar to the way he talks about asset sales re first terms.


    What type of Cap gains tax could most easily be avoided if given advanced warning of it’s introduction?

    • I agree.

      The general language sounds like “tax cuts for all” but if you look at the different phrases Key uses there is the possibility that he is preserving areas where taxation can be increased.

      Legally this is fine, you should always read the small print. I am not sure however if this works in political terms and suspect that people will be upsed.

      Besides those most likely to be hurt by any reduction in loopholes are likely to be National supporters. I wonder how they will respond?

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        Yes, I think that if his “comprehensive” is a weasel-word to let him go ahead with some CGT, and indeed closes trust loopholes as I mentioned in the first post, the people who are going to be most upset are those that are the traditional National voters, and this could all blow up in his face very badly.

        Especially when they made such a big deal about the speech being a “quite detailed” overview of the upcoming tax changes, when it turns out not to have mentioned the areas that National voters consider important (anything that hits their back pocket, basically).

  3. vto 3

    Agreed that it is a money-go-round but one of the general thrusts of the proposed changes is moving the taxation from income to spending (on non-essentials preferably). Imo this is a good thing. The practicalities and politics in making this move is the confounding aspect.

    Goff et al will wail and moan ad then make no changes to it when / if they get in. Part of the dark art of obfuscation and smoke and mirrors that these politicians all indulge in. Goff will know such a taxation structural change is a good thing but he will say other – what does that make him?

    • Bright Red 3.1

      everyone gets the point that shifting tax from wrok to consumption.

      The problem isn’t with that, it’s with the money grab for the wealthy.

      • vto 3.1.1

        Goff words don’t seem to support that. How would Goff and Labour go about making such a shift you think?

        • Craig Glen Eden

          Goff is saying exactly that VTO, he is saying the rich should not get richer out of this but under National they will. Goff and Cunliffe have not said they will remove it for all the reasons stated by Lanthanide below. Goff is also reminding people that Key says one thing and then does another ie Taxes will go up for the less wealthy.

    • Lanthanide 3.2

      I agree. A raise on GST, as long as it is properly offset for those on low incomes, is sensible and a better long-term plan for the country than not raising GST.

      Having said that, just because Goff won’t repeal the GST raise doesn’t mean you can call him a hypocrite. Government’s can’t spend all of their time undoing the legislation from the previous government if they don’t like it, because nothing would ever get done. This is doubly so when you’re talking about the economy, where people make long-term decisions based on current policy and the short to medium term outlook – having everything shift every 3-6 years when the other side gets into power would ruin the economy in short order. Also a GST change in particular has big costs associated with businesses, that need to update their pricing as well as computer systems to account for the new figure.

      Finally, should Labour get in, they don’t need to repeal GST, simply raise the top rate back up to 38%, use the same WFF-dodging loophole voodoo I mentioned in my post above to stop people sheltering income in trusts and give tax cuts to those in the bottom brackets, thus achieving what National will likely fail to do – fair redistribution of GST taxation on the populace. I’ve also posted a few times around here my personal favourite idea along these lines – make local council rates GST free. This would relieve pressure both on the councils (which for every $1 they require must charge the public $1.125 or soon $1.15) and those on low/fixed incomes.

      • Lanthanide 3.2.1

        Yes I realise that my third paragraph goes against the content of my second, but really I see it as more correcting National’s screwup, rather than repealing their changes wholesale.

      • vto 3.2.2

        GST should be dropped on food and housing as well. Housing costs would drop by 12.5% virtually overnight (but then so would values and voters would not like that). And surely govt revenue would remain relatively stable as that money not spent on housing GST would surely get spent on consumables and other GST related fings.

        • Lanthanide

          When you say “housing GST”, what are you actually talking about?

          Rent and mortgages are both GST free. When you buy a house, you pay the $ value, not $ + 12.5%. I believe in Australia they have ‘stamp duty’ which is an extra small % on top of the $ value you pay for the house, but we have no such thing in NZ.

          Council rates, which are based on property value, are not. Hence my suggestion that they should be.

          • vto

            GST is applied to all components involved in buying new land and building a new house.

            If the GST was removed then new homes would come down by 12.5%. This has a direct flow-on effect to the amount people would pay for used homes.

  4. Fisiani 4


    [lprent: Still banned until Thursday. Have you figured out how to put links in yet? ]

  5. tc 5

    Let’s wait for the detail as there’s a number of things that may be done like a CGT phased in so those enjoying the tax free gain can get out in time and the usual lolly scramble for their rich mates…..as they really are doing it tough these days.

    One thing is certain from Beatson’s interview last week with Blinglish when asked the direct question as to if they’ve studied the impact GST rise has on low/middle income….re-asked twice as blinglish was weasling around and the answer was ……mmmm No we haven’t.

    Immediate retort from Beatson was well how do you know how to compensate in benefits/tax cuts if you haven’t analysed how much worse off they’ll be……Checkmate double dipton!

    There you have it in a nutshell, not only a basic question the MSM can’t ask (not allowed to show up the Class of 2008 y’know) and a gov’t who haven’t done their homework ……choose a brighter future eh……cheap flights to Oz.

  6. Ed 6

    Grey Power seemed to be mollified by the bland “people won’t be worse off” statement from Key, but I wonder how many National party supporter widows will react when they find that the interest on their bank investments doesn’t increase enough to cover the GST – and that bringing forward an increase in NZ Super is only short term – it will still only be 66% of average wage, which National will do its best to keep from increasing . . .

  7. Sanctuary 7

    Has no one bothered to consider the scenario that that dismal retread from the failed Shipley regime, the double dipper himself, may simply try and pay for these tax cuts by re-visiting the tactics of Bill Birch and freeze government spending for, say, six years so he can spend the difference on tax cuts for the rich?

  8. feijoa 8

    More user charges and cuts to services.

  9. aj 9

    Higher borrowing.

    captcha ‘unable’

  10. aj 10

    Higher borrowings.

  11. chris 11

    what i don’t understand is why they don’t introduce a tax free threshold equivalent to whatever they’re going to spend on tax cuts. everyone benefits and will prob stimulate consumption more as the poor will have more money to spend

  12. illuminatedtiger 12

    Tax cuts north of $50 a week?

    • aj 12.1

      Yes they SHOULD have a problem with the average wage earner here. They campaigned on tax cut ‘north of $50’ for the average wage, then canceled them. Now they have tax cuts back on the table, why are they not honoring their promise? why are they giving the 2nd tranche of cuts to the top 8% on income earners?

  13. SPC 13

    There is no need to take GST off rates – there is already a rates rebate for those on low incomes.

  14. SPC 14

    Even if the top rate and the trust rate were the same – people would still place money in the trust to qualify for WFF and the student allowance for their children.

    One answer is to make easy access to WFF and student allowances to there being no trust arrangments. Where there are, there being a tax “audit” before any access is given.

  15. SPC 15

    National cannot use the money from GST alone to make the changes to income tax rates they propose (and other compensating adjustments) – they intend to make other changes to afford the top rate change and change to the company tax rate.

    Instead of cutting the top rate and the company tax rate, they should remember the “step” change is to realise a tax regime where savings and investment are rewarded, not consumption and speculation. Thus use money from tax collection efficiency and expansion of the net for some purpose

    1. cut tax on interest income (allow half the amount to be income tax free, as it is merely capital value maitenance) – this including certain non ownership shares in stocks/and similar vehicles for small business non ownership “capital” fundraising.
    2. restore R and D tax incentives (and maintain depreciation for plant and equipment)
    3. establish insurance for lending to small businesses so they can grow with affordable finance.

  16. coolas 16

    I don’t get it. Can someone please explain?
    1) How does a salary earner transfer their salary to a trust?

    • luva 16.1

      Coolas, they can’t transfer their salary to a trust.

      It is only income that is earned by the trust that is taxed at the trust rate.

      If you are a rich prick employee of of Luva Ltd, you can’t transfer your $1m salary to a trust.

      There are problems with trusts but a large part of over the top criticism comes from people that do not actually understand what a trust is.

      • coolas 16.1.1

        Thanks luva. The trust issue seems a red herring. Maybe a convenient reason to lower the top salary/wage rate and given the abounding financial ignorance (includes myself) Govt can tell us anything. Because that’s what they’re saying, isn’t it? To close the loopholes of using trusts to pay 33% instead of 38% they’ll lower the rate. Still doesn’t make sense to me.

  17. Redrum 17

    “Since nearly a million taxpayers have incomes below $14,000 Key will have to cut the 12.5% bottom tax rate to fulfill his promise. That costs hundreds of millions per cent that is cut.”

    Key has already basically said (on national radio and somewhere else i forget where) he will not cut this tax as it is mostly partners, part timers students etc earning so little- implying they dont count as they must be supported by someone else (parent, spouse etc)

    This is how he can supposedly make the ‘vast majority better off’ by pretending that people living on less than $14000 do not exist.

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