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Tax reform for everyone, not just the rich

Written By: - Date published: 7:26 am, November 27th, 2009 - 42 comments
Categories: tax - Tags:

Why is it that whenever you see discussion of introducing capital gains tax, land tax etc, the assumption is always that the money will be used to cut the top tax rates?

That seems completely misguided to me. Why should tax reform be all about taking tax burden off those most able to bear it? Taxes to disincentivise housing as an investment won’t only be borne by housing investors. In fact, the Tax Working Group says the effect of closing the tax breaks for housing will be regressive (ie take a higher portion of the incomes of people on low incomes than those on high incomes) because there will be pass-on to rents. So, if the new taxes, as desirable as they are, will be felt by a broad section of the population, why should the counteracting tax cuts only go to the wealthy elite?

Now, a lot of you out there will be saying ‘I earn over $70,000 and I’m not rich’. Two points:

1) relatively, you are. 91% of New Zealanders earn less than $70,000. The median income in New Zealand is $28,000, which means half of New Zealanders get by on less than that. The median wage is $41,000 and the median full-time wage is $45,000. So, yeah $70,000 is a bit. (see NZ Income Survey)

2) Sure, if you’re on $75,000 or $80,000 you get a little bit from a cut to the top tax rate but a 1% reduction in the top tax rate only gives you a dollar a week per $5,000 over $70,000 you earn. And consider: on $80,000 you get a whole $2 a week. But if you’re Rob Fyfe on $3.1 million you get $600 a week. Top bracket tax cuts aren’t only unfair to everyone earning below $70,000, they’re unfair to nearly everyone earning above $70,000 too.

Serious consideration should be given using the revenue from new property-based taxes to pay for a tax-free income tax bracket. OK, let’s say the combination of new taxes brings in $2 billion a year. If that money is used to cut the upper tax rates the top tax rates could be cut to 26% but three out of four people would get nothing, most of the rest get less than $20 a week, and 1.5% of taxpayers make off with tax cuts averaging $178 a week.

(in the graphs, one worker=100,000 taxpayers, each stack represents an income bracket $10,000 wide, the last two are $100K to $150K and $150K + the blue is the weekly tax cut)

tax cuts for the rich

A tax-free bracket up to about $5,300 would cost the same amount and would give everyone $13 a week.

fair tax cut

Now, which sounds fair to you?

42 comments on “Tax reform for everyone, not just the rich ”

  1. tsmithfield 1

    Its because we need to be creating an environment that encourages people to move ahead and improve their circumstances.

    An example of the effect of reversing the tax reduction schedule as you propose can be seen in one of my workers. He refuses to work overtime because it will reduce his level of family support, and so the extra income from overtime is no value to him.

    This is the effect of increasing taxes as people move up in the income bracket. It serves as a damper on the economy and in the end is bad for everyone including the low income workers.

    • Marty G 1.1

      “Its because we need to be creating an environment that encourages people to move ahead and improve their circumstances.” see: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/the-myth-of-upward-mobility/

      the richest countries in the world have higher top tax rates than we do – norway, sweden, uk, france, australia etc

      maybe you should hire another worker rather than expect people to work overtime.

      It is true that because people now get Working for Families and that abates as income rises it creates a higher marginal tax rate.

      If your worker has a enough kids, then his marginal earnings could be in the 38% bracket, and with Working for Families abating at 20 cents in the dollar that’s an effective marginal tax rate of 58 cents in the dollar.

      But what’s the alternative? get rid of WfF? Don’t think he would like that. Abate at a slower rate? Then richer people would get it and i remember the fuss the right kicked up over that.

      • Lanthanide 1.1.1

        The guy from the tax working group on 9 to noon yesterday morning acknowledged that Oz has a higher rate – 45%, but that it kicks it at a much higher income threshold, $180,000. The effect of this is that while we have a lower headline rate, 38%, people that are on that rate still pay a lot more tax on average than those overseas. He said you’d have to earn $200,000 before you start to pay less tax in NZ as a result of our lower headline rate than Oz – that means that up until $200k you pay more tax in NZ.

        So yes, we may have a lower *headline* rate, but the *effective* rate is higher than the rest of the world, and that is the issue that they are talking about.

    • prism 1.2

      Tsmithfield’s worker is making a good economic decision for his own circumstances. The trouble about many of our tax regimes is that they are too clear cut at the edges ie earn a bit more and you get hoisted into another tax bracket. Not indexing for inflation exacerbates this.
      Earn a bit over the allowed earnings for a beneficiary and you lose your allowances, and end up with less than your previous income which will not be the high rate sensationally trumpeted in the media. I haven’t seen an example of how such a high income can be allocated.
      The secondary tax system is another government tax rort based on the idea that a second job is a luxury as the first, main job pays enough to live on.
      Our tax system has been designed for simplicity and ease of accounting – the idea of a rational system and fair taxes that don’t discourage workers to earn more doesn’t come into it.

      • Marty G 1.2.1

        agree that the abatement rate for benefits sucks – 70%!

        Add in 12.5% or 21% tax and people trying to come off the benefit face marginal tax rates of up to 91%. It makes it every unappealing to go from the benefit to part-time work. You’re basically giving up a lot of time for bugger all extra cash.

        Tricky though. Lower the abatement rate and you’ll have people earning thousands of dollars a year from work while getting the unemployment benefit. And you can imagine the Right’s response to that.

        • TightyRighty 1.2.1.1

          who would work because it’s the right thing to do, rather than just sucking from the taxpayers tit. all the bullshit that pours of this site about how much people who are unemployed would love to work, and then this bullshit comes out about how people need to make rational economic choices. benefits need to be taken away if people think it’s more economic to stay on them. because benefits are for people who deserve them, not sponges.

          • JonL 1.2.1.1.1

            When you;re earning SFA to start with, every dollar counts! Would you work, knowing that tax is taking 40mins of every hours wages?

      • felix 1.2.2

        Agree with prism (and Marty) on benefit abatement rates.

        Also on the secondary tax system – I’ve never understood how this is supposed to make sense. It seems like a relic from a bygone era.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.2.2.1

          Most of our tax system is a relic of a bygone era – the era when we didn’t have computers and high speed data connections.

    • jcuknz 1.3

      This letter tsmithfield illustrates the mad pre-occupation with getting ahead monetarywise instead of living a good and full life which used to be the New Zealand ethic as opposed to the crazy dog eat dog world of America. On the otherhand I thought fellow workers who refused overtime ‘because of the extra tax paid’ as rather stupidly self centred as it is the responsibility of those who have it to pay it for the benefit of all … worker or employer. Much of my working life I paid above average tax and never regretted it … my contribution to a responsible society.

    • roger nome 1.4

      It’s because we need to create an environment that encourages correct grammar, and critical faculties, that allow us to see trough neo-liberal dogma (i.e. that people are only motivated by cash.

      You embody the failure of the National’s and Labour’s 1990s-present policies. Time to move on.

  2. Ron 2

    So your worker won’t work overtime? If they had decided this because it interefered with their church repsonisbilities? If the they decided not to because they preferred to spend time with their family? If they had a doisbal;ed family member who required their time? If they decided not to take overtime because they’re happy with their income and don’t want the extra work?

    It’s a workers right to work overtime or not and it should be no concern of yours what those reasons are.

    • gitmo 2.1

      Ummmmm I think the point being made is that in this particular case there is a perverse incentive for this person not to increase their gross income as it will decrease their net income…….I hope you can see that situation is non-sensical

      • Marty G 2.1.1

        oh dear gitmo.

        There is no way for tax to turn an increase in gross income into a lower net income. You’re talking about a marginal tax rate over 100%. It doesn’t exist.

        The highest you can get in NZ is an income over $70,000 with Working for Families, which gives a marginal tax rate of 58% – 38% tax, 20% abatement of WFF.

        You realise that when your income enters a higher tax bracket it is only the earnings in that bracket that are taxed at the higher rate, eh? Everything else is taxed at the lower rates.

        captcha: invalid

        • gitmo 2.1.1.1

          That’s odd I had one staff member with the same issue who was convinced that if we gave her the increase we were proposing it led to a decrease in her WFF and a decrease in her net income…. perhaps we calculated it incorrectly ?

          • Marty G 2.1.1.1.1

            there aren’t 100%+ marginal tax rates. Not since Muldoon’s day. No-one would accept a payrise that pushed them over the boundary if there was.

        • Lanthanide 2.1.1.2

          Also throw in the 10% student loan payments, as someone earning over $70k is likely to have. Obviously it’s not really a ‘tax’, but it does come out of your take home pay.

          • snoozer 2.1.1.2.1

            if you’re on a benefit, that could potentially make your marginal tax rate 101%. But for people on over $70K and getting Working for Families and with a student loan to pay (not a huge group, of course) it’s 68%

            • felix 2.1.1.2.1.1

              Do people on benefits have to make student loan repayments?

            • snoozer 2.1.1.2.1.2

              if they earn over the repayment threshold. Say you were earning for half a year and now you’re on the dole, if it takes your annual earnings over 16K or whatver the threshold is, you need to pay 10 cents in the dollar above that threshold

      • Ron 2.1.2

        Can’t see anything non-sensical aboout it. The comment was trying to draw a connection between levels of taxation and/or government support and the willingness of his/her workers to work overtime. It’s irrelevant. A worker has a right to decide for themselves whether they want to work overtime. Their reasons for this are none of the employer’s business.
        The fact that this worker is sensibly supported through WfF is a good thing for our sociaety and if they choose not to work overtime because they value that support – again – none of the employer’s business.
        You could just as easily aruge that we should pay people less as an incentive to do overtime? In fact that is what is being argued.

  3. tsmithfield 3

    The situation with our business is that we have customers who can only have work done after hours. So overtime is unavoidable. The stated reason my worker doesn’t want to do overtime is abatement of family support, no other reason.

    Marty, how do you think your upward mobility study would look in a hypothetical situation where the tax percentages were reversed, so that low income workers paid tax at the highest rate?

    The problem at the moment is that the so called wealthy are paying highest tax rates in terms of both amount and percentage. Furthermore they don’t get any of the benefits from the state (family support, community services card etc). Therefore they are disincentivised in more ways than one. These people also often are in a position to take there money and go to another country that treats them more fairly if they so wish if they feel like they are getting too screwed over. So, be careful what you wish for.

    • Marty G 3.1

      how am I meant to create a fantasy world where the poor are taxed more than the rich?

      That’s actually nutty. You’re saying let’s take the people with the least, the people on the edge and take more of what little they have so that people like you and I can have more cash for funding our comfortable lifestyles.

      All that would happen is the poor would be poorer and the rich richer. It’s not going to suddenly make everyone rich. That train of thought assumes that people want to be poor.

    • Ron 3.2

      “The situation with our business is that we have customers who can only have work done after hours. So overtime is unavoidable.” OR – you structure your business to cater to your clients.

      • felix 3.2.1

        Nah, it’s totally the worker’s problem.

        • prism 3.2.1.1

          Hey, that doesn’t address the reality of after main business hours needs of customers. Then there are roads or railways where work may have to be done when traffic is light. Wellington people may like to give a big thank you to the people working over the Christmas holidays updating parts of the rail system there.

          • snoozer 3.2.1.1.1

            employing people to work outside normal business hours isn’t the same as expecting them to work overtime.

    • Bored 3.3

      Hi ts, I too run a company that has regular overtime required at all hours 24*7. To enable us to do this I accept the need to pay penal rates that exceed any displaced income elsewhere (i.e. extra income eats into family entitlements etc). This I pass on to the customer (a luxury a lot of companies dont have I admit), but at least this gives some incentive.

      The above scenario I dont blame on the tax system per se, it is more a result of my efforts to maximise my profit which is generated by the work put in by the employees. The issue is systemic, if I pay more I become both less profitable and less competitve price wise and we are all out of work. If I dont pay enough the work doesnt get done.

      I dont complain about the tax system the employees work within, any business person worth their salt knows any number of ways to structure the rest of the business to take advantage of where the taxman meets the ledger. We have the luxury PAYE people dont of choosing what Caesars cut comes from at the best rate. That is where tax reform needs to be concentrated, not on the least able to take advantage.

    • jcuknz 3.4

      >>>The situation with our business is that we have customers who can only have work done after hours<<<
      Surerly this is a situation where you employ people to work those hours and to have time off during the 'working day'. A good proportion of my working life I was employed that way with 10-7 and 5-midnight shifts becuase that was when the work was. No overtime was required apart from covering other staff sickness etc.

      It also seems wrong that we have so many beneficiaries in the country with punitive abatement levels which mean such small reward for extra work. A further problem is that cutting taxes for 'the workers' is so expensive for government and so unrewarding for the worker….. or is that a fallacy?

  4. vidiot 4

    So in Martys terms, a single income family earning $80K per annum is rich, yet a dual income family earning 2 median full-time wage of $45,000 ($90K) is not ?

    You call it working for families, yet it actively discourages having a single income family ? And instead encourages both parents to go back to work. Like that’s really going to help your family unit… here strangers look after my kids, I need to earn a buck to stay afloat.

    • Marty G 4.1

      it doesn’t discourage single income families. It is the family income, not yours alone that is taken into account.

      Obviously personal circumstances change your wealth. If you are single on $50K with no kids, you’re sitting pretty easy. $70K between two of you with two kids is not so easy.

      • vidiot 4.1.1

        It does discourage single income families.

        Q) How much tax does a single income family pay on 80K of income ?
        A) $21,309.60

        Q) How much tax does a dual income family on 80K (2 x 40k) pay ?
        A) $15,778.80

        The difference – $5,530.80 – about $106.00 per week and that’s before any WFF payments are taken in to account.

        • snoozer 4.1.1.1

          vidiot. The issue you’re talking about there is income splitting, not Working for Families.

          Working for Families doesn’t discourage single earner families. Income splitting arguably would encourage single earner familes.. but implicit in your example is the assumption that, if only the tax system would encourage them to do it, the couple would stop earning 40K each and one of them would be able to magically increase (his) income to 80K. And that’s just fantasyland stuff

          Income splitting would probably be mostly used for rorting by business owners.

          • vidiot 4.1.1.1.1

            An easy fix would be to allow income splitting, but that income splitting stops either the moment the registered 2nd adult starts full-time work or the youngest child turns 18.

        • prism 4.1.1.2

          The Wffamilies is seen by some as a welfare handout not a rebalancing of an unfair rigid tax system which recognises the extra cost burdens that parents bear. Every now and then there are disparaging comments about it. It would be far better to have the old adjustable tax system where the family pay a set rate of tax according to the numbers of children – say 1-2, 3-4 5 and over. More work for administration? That’s what computers are meant to help with isn’t it! Then no handbacks to allow people just to manage.

          There is plenty of evidence in NZ of a growing number of working poor on low incomes who can hardly manage to pay the bills and don’t have much money left over for pleasure let alone emergencies. And they often have shit jobs with shit bosses and shit hours as well. Happy days in the bright NZ economy ushered in by Rodger and his band of elves.

          And all the time the rainbow vision dangled in front of us – parity with higher Australian incomes. At what pay level exactly are we talking about here. Those at the high end who think that $80,000 pa isn’t being rich. Some people are born moaners, they won’t be satisfied till they pay the same tax as someone on $30,000 and consider that is a fair and reasonable way to draw a country’s needed revenues.

          Sort of communistic isn’t it when you look at flat taxes – funny how right-wingers can twist and turn when there is advantage to them.

  5. Herodotus 5

    The tax system views earners as individuals the welfare/state looks at the family situation re income. One system does not dove tail into the other. So there are cases where the “rich” families who earn less than those that the state determines requires additional assisatnce.
    Under the tax system single income families are disadvantaged, so you conclude that labour & Nats do not value families esp parents who stay at home.
    I will coninue one of my pet questions that NO ONE will answer – What is a Livable wage. Then once this is ascertained then how does the tax system/ with welfare assist those under this level to live in a meaningful way ? But this question just solicites emptyness. If Labour cannot answer or is unwilling to perhaps that is why no one will vote for them.

    • Bored 5.1

      I remember the cheers from single people with no kids when the tax brackets were removed making all incomes taxed much the same way. In the 70s I recall you got taxed more if you were single or as a secondary income earner in a family. The tax got less the more kids you had.

      I suspect some of the results of this change include the need for family income support, surplus expenditure by childless people on consumer products, inability of poorer families to provide good parenting etc etc.

      Capcha “Senior”…I was a kid in the 70s

  6. ben 6

    Marty: again you miss the obvious. The stated goal is to shift tax from mobile factors to immobile factors. If you tax things that move then they may go to low tax jurisdictions. If you tax things that are immobile then you reduce DWL for any given amount of ta raised. Not a hard concept, not necessarily incompatible with your progressive ideal, and a well publicised one. Somehow, something you have missed.

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