The tax changes that are about to be announced are characterised even by the Government as a ‘tax swap’. They are fiscally neutral. The tax burden will not fall. All that will change is who it will fall on.
So, it’s pretty disappointing to see the media running silly pieces titled ‘Tax cuts: What’ll you get’ and the like with no corresponding look at who will pay more.
Into the breach once more.
As I’ve shown before, there’s actually no tax cut for the 1.1 million taxpayers with incomes under $14,000. The cut in the bottom rate is eaten by the higher GST bill. The first 50% of taxpayers get an average of $1.25 a week between them. Net tax goes down by the princely sum of $8 a week for someone on $65,000. Of course, it’s after $70,000 that the big money starts flowing. A person on John Key’s $350,000 salary gets $12,000 a year. Paul Reynolds, Telecom’s $7 million man, gets $290,000.
But that’s only part of the story – the country’s total net tax cut is zero. The money for those tax cuts for the rich comes from increasing tax on housing investment. Until now, I haven’t tried to work out who bears the cost of that.
A tax isn’t necessarily borne by the person who pays it to the government. If they can, they will pass it on to someone else. Although there appears to by no(!) official work done on who will bear the cost of higher tax on housing investment, the landlord’s lobby group has been clear that the costs will be largely passed on to renters. And that seems to make a lot of sense, most landlords are operating on on thin margins at present, so they can’t afford to take the cost themselves. Renters are quite a captive market while home ownership remains so expensive so landlords are free to pass the cost on to them.
Who are the renters? The census tells us:
These are the people who will be paying for the tax cuts for the rich. They are poor, they are non-Pakeha, they are already paying large portions of their income on rent.
Being low income working families they are most likely to have lost jobs during the recession and to have got no pay rise. They may get small income tax cuts, but they will already be eaten up by the higher GST bill. On top of that, they will be picking up the tab for tax cuts to people like Key, Reynolds, and other wealthy members of the capitalist class.
Remember, if you get a net tax cut in this Budget, that money isn’t manna from heaven. It has come out of someone else’s pocket. Most likely, it has come from a low or middle income working family that rents. Do you need it more than them?
One last point. I actually don’t object to better taxation of housing investment or to higher GST. Discouraging over-investment in housing, letting the price of houses fall, is good. Taxing consumption is good. What matters though is what is done with the revenue raised. It should be distributed fairly – a zero-tax bracket from $0-$8000 would be my preference. Seeing as the National Government isn’t doing that and only sees tax reform as an opportunity to make the poor pay more taxes and the rich less, I can’t support it.