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Tax Working Groupthink

Written By: - Date published: 11:25 am, February 5th, 2010 - 29 comments
Categories: education, tax - Tags:

The Tax Working Group’s summary presentation at their December seminar came from a senior partner from one of the Big 4 accountancy firms, Price Waterhouse. One scenario for the preferred ultimate outcome aligned income, trustee and company tax at 27%, paid for by increasing GST to 15%.

At the top:

Big change

The graph tops out at $120,000 income. A big 4 partner earns around $500,000 according to David Farrar on Kiwiblog. That would be an extra $47,300 for the Big 4 partners on the group.

At the bottom:

No change

That’s no change for kid’s – 16% left in poverty.

That’s equality? No, it’s a disgrace. These will be the kids who will surely fail National’s rushed-in standards. With no more money to help them, their future stays bleak.

This scenario shows the priorities of the Tax Group – drop  the top rates and pay for it by raising GST. Alignment was their buzz word – but there was no mention of aligning up so everyone paid their fair share.

It will be interesting to compare the approaches taken when the Australian report chaired by Ken Henry is released publicly. Indications so far are that it has taken a much broader approach, scanned the environment, looked at the purpose of taxes, and not resiled from the prospect of increasing as well as broadening the tax base.

At least Aussie kids won’t be left behind.

29 comments on “Tax Working Groupthink ”

  1. randal 1

    sorry to lower the tone folks but one of them on the teev recently was drunk and positively sneering at the plebs.
    thats us!

  2. tc 2

    Oz have a broad tax base (GST, CGT, Stamp Duty, PAYE, land taxes in some states) so they have the required tools in place to tinker the % and get a fair result…..gold tax enables WA gov’t a very easy Ka Ching when it needs a lift as an example.

    What we have is a pillage and loot approach taken by the folk who have done excessively well through the last 10-20 years but then what do you expect with the makeup of the group……yet another fail, not that NACT gives a toss.

    Equity to these folks is a decent priced Wine at the restaurant they lunch at the taxpayers expense on…..you never get the fair outcome where the vested interests of the decision makers are being decided upon…..management 101.

    • Jagilby 2.1

      So, by that logic, no-one in the country is qualified to pass judgement on our tax system.

      You’d rather someone from Singapore etc design our system? Someone with no knowledge of the NZ experience who would probably demand multiples of what the TWG was paid / donated in time. Someone who you could accuse of swinging the tax system in favour of their own clients who *may* want (or better still be open to a conflict of interest slander) to reduce foreign investment taxation barriers. Me thinks there would be a lot more howling from you lot if that were the case.

      • Clarke 2.1.1

        Thanks for taking that perfectly valid point to a ludicrous extreme.

        As you would notice from previous posts on the TWG, the issue is simply that it’s made up of a completely unrepresentative sample of NZ society who all stand to benefit handsomely from the changes they’re proposing.

        For instance, there was no union representation, no beneficiary representation, no Maori or Pasifika representation and, no small business owners – just as a starter. Yet these people have an equally valid view on how taxes should be collected and distributed, and how equity should be achieved in society.

        NZ deserves better than a bunch of highly-paid middle aged white guys sitting in a room granting themselves tax concessions.

        • Jagilby 2.1.1.1

          “completely unrepresentative sample of NZ society…”

          “For instance, there was no union representation, no beneficiary representation, no Maori or Pasifika representation and, no small business owners”

          That’s a completely fallacious argument. Anytime you set up an expert panel it’ll be unrepresentative. Unions, believe it or not, are not experts in taxation law. As much as you’d like to think so you’re not. What is beneficiary representation going to do for the debate? These guys talk to small business owners everyday and know the SME sector inside out you muppet – in fact they give advice and guidance to SME owners – you don’t think they know the issues that affect business? In terms of making ethnic distinctions when thinking about the taxation system… well that’s so absurd it’s not even worth devoting oxygen to.

          So any time we have a discussion on any material issue in this country, be it climate change, be it foreshore and seabed issues we shouldn’t get the experts in the field to debate it we need all these talk-fests set up.

          Everyone, even big 4 partners (huge surprise!), know that GST is a regressive tax and that the poor need to be compensated for any increase (or did you decide to just ignore that sentence in the recommendations?). They fully understand and recognise the implications of each recommendation – I know I’ve discussed the issue with a few of them personally – how many have you talked to about it? Or do you just prefer to believe that these professionals are completely compromised because they 1) work in the private sector; and 2) are in the top tax bracket?

          As an aside Perter Conway (CTU) and Susan St John (Champagne Socialist) were involved with the TWG.

          • Clarke 2.1.1.1.1

            Leaving aside the gratuitous insults you’re using to try and bolster your flawed arguments, let me make a couple of points.

            Everyone, even big 4 partners (huge surprise!), know that GST is a regressive tax and that the poor need to be compensated for any increase (or did you decide to just ignore that sentence in the recommendations?).

            Clearly the people on the panel knew exactly what they were doing when they designed their proposals, so we can conclude that the dramatically lower tax burden for high income earners and the unchanged burden on the poor was their deliberate intention.

            The point of John’s original post was that the TWG is making no effort to ensure NZ is a more equitable society. And based on the expertise of the people involved, this is an intentional outcome, one that a great number of New Zealanders – including me – would strongly disagree with.

            Or do you just prefer to believe that these professionals are completely compromised because they 1) work in the private sector; and 2) are in the top tax bracket?

            As someone who works in the private sector and pays the top tax rate – as I’ve done here and overseas for many years – I can only suggest that you’ll have to shop elsewhere for your simplistic and offensive right-wing caricatures.

            Despite the fact that both my company and a fair number of my staff stand to benefit handsomely from the proposals of the TWG, I do not want a tax cut. I want a more equitable country. I want a place where deaf kids don’t get their funding cut to pay for private schools. I want a country where there is much less of a gap between rich and poor, and where all the rhetoric of equal opportunity actually provides job opportunities for everyone in New Zealand. And if that means that I pay more tax, then so be it.

            And the reason I want these things is because I remember how bad it was last time around.

            I was in my twenties when Ruthenasia blew through this economy, and I vividly remember losing my business, losing my house, firing my staff, and struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table in the aftermath – all because of a recession that was longer and deeper than it ever needed to be, and a brutal political culture that bashed those who were struggling to make ends meet.

            I didn’t have much of a sense of how politics worked, back then. But when I see the behaviour of this government I see those same ghosts from the early 90’s stalking the landscape again. And I made a promise many years ago – a promise made to that shattered twenty-something me, who sat in the wreckage of his business as the receivers wound it up – that I would do everything in my power to help build a society that didn’t allow this to happen to anyone.

            Your advocacy for this culture of greed and selfishness will harm my country, and in my view you can take it and shove it up your fucking arse.

            • Jagilby 2.1.1.1.1.1

              “Your advocacy for this culture of greed and selfishness will harm my country, and in my view you can take it and shove it up your fucking arse.”

              Ha, with my caricatures and your presumptions we make a good pairing. Selfishness and greed – I voted against student free loans even though I had far more to gain personally at the time by voting in favour of them vs a tax cut. Each additional “entitlement” only increases the rate this country rots at.

              Mate, I would love to take a wager with you on where this country will be in 20 years given its current heading.

              I’m watching a generation of skilled professionals leave en-masse with no intention to return. I’m 10 years into the workforce and I can count those still in NZ from my graduating class on my hand.

              We’ll see how selfish and greedy people become and how really fucked up this country becomes once it starts running out of other people’s money to pay the bills.

              I won’t be sticking around to find out.

              • Clarke

                Ha, with my caricatures and your presumptions we make a good pairing.

                True enough.

                We’ll see how selfish and greedy people become and how really fucked up this country becomes once it starts running out of other people’s money to pay the bills.

                Well, for all of the fact that we probably disagree about what constitutes a good direction and a bad direction, I’m an optimist about this little country.

                I think that if we can break out of this neo-liberal straightjacket of continually viewing everything through the lens of money, our natural sense of giving everyone a fair go and looking out for one another will re-assert itself. I think the Western economies will be in for a bit of a rough time over the next couple of decades, but if we play our cards right we might just escape the worst of it.

                No matter what else happens, we can feed everyone; we can keep the lights on; we have a long and noble history of inventiveness and making do and giving everyone a fair shot, and I think by 2030 those qualities will count for much more than GDP per capita.

                I won’t be sticking around to find out.

                At about (what I guess) your age is, I left too. But I came back, because the place your family comes from and where you want your children to grow up ends up counting for much more than career progression and relative tax rates. Who knows – you might find yourself heading home, in time. And by then your country may well need your skills and expertise and (hopefully) wisdom, and we’ll all be here to welcome you with open arms; one more returned from OE, bringing back much more than they took away.

              • Lanthanide

                “I voted against student free loans even though I had far more to gain personally at the time by voting in favour of them vs a tax cut”

                “I’m watching a generation of skilled professionals leave en-masse with no intention to return.”

                Unless you’re ending up on a salary of 120k+, interest free student loans are more likely to keep these skilled professionals in NZ in the short term than the tax cuts that Brash proposed would have.

            • BLiP 2.1.1.1.1.2

              Your advocacy for this culture of greed and selfishness will harm my country, and in my view you can take it and shove it up your fucking arse.

              Amen.

            • Jenny 2.1.1.1.1.3

              Well said, Clarke.

  3. It’s a bit rich accusing the Nats of having an ideological approach to tax when Labour’s ideological approach (and unwillingness to deal with the tax issues around investment housing) are part of the problem.

    It should be a no brainer to have alignment of the top tax rates across all forms of entities otherwise you end up in the mess Labour got us into too. That said, there’s no disputing some level of progression.

    The other point of course is that given such a large chunk of our population don’t pay any effective income tax, is hard to devise a system that would give them cuts!

    • Bored 3.1

      “The other point of course is that given such a large chunk of our population don’t pay any effective income tax, is hard to devise a system that would give them cuts!”

      That is unless we actually did something radical and made sure everybody had useful productive work, preferably that benefitted the whole community. Like sharing out the tasks that had to be done. But whoa, that might mean the socialising of production, the end of the huge multiples paid to executives of corporations etc. Lots of options available here.

      So lets start with job sharing, I offer to do half of Paul Reynolds work, we can share the pay. Except I dont mind sharing the money with really useful people aswell, like people who staff old peoples homes, toilet cleaners etc, You know the ones, those where the shit hits the fan and they clean it for a pittance to stop you and me getting typhoid etc.

      • Daveski 3.1.1

        Clearly that is always an option – socialising production and getting rid of the evil capitalists. Sadly, you’d find the track record is worse than that of capitalism and doesn’t eliminate the types of jobs you refer to.

        I would however tend to agree that we are seeing a range of roles (often with imported “talent”) paid ridiculous dollars for dubious contributions to the economy.

        • Bored 3.1.1.1

          Options dont need to rid ourselves of evil capitalists (I fit that description myself as an employer), they have their uses. They also have a price that is usually too high, what we are talking about is equitable pie splitting. something that actually reflects real contribution (not always obvious) and rewards personnal risk aswell…..

          • Daveski 3.1.1.1.1

            I think we can find some common ground there. Hah .. an evil capitalist here at the standard (and not the only one i suspect too!)

  4. jagilby 4

    “A big 4 partner earns around $500,000 according to David Farrar on Kiwiblog.”

    What exactly did DPF say:
    “Now many partners in law firms can earn over $500,000 a year.”

    So you actually have no idea how much a big 4 partner earns – you are merely speculating based on what a law partner (a completely different profession) earns.

    I’ll take your point that they earn sh!tloads and don’t dispute that but think that your source was a particularly weak. LIke comparing a law partner to an investment banker’s bonus.

    Of course any downward change you make to the top income tax rate is going to have a larger nominal effect on high earners… they also pay a higher nominal amount of tax. What this graph and scenario did not account for was the net effect of those on high incomes who also own property if the other recommendations regarding tax were enacted. Because, you know, that’s the whole thing with a “TAX PACKAGE” you have to look at it in its entirety.

    • Clarke 4.1

      As someone who has first-hand knowledge of exactly how much partners in the Fat Four are paid, the numbers being quoted are well within the ballpark.

      The exact amount in any given year will depend on the part of the practice (tax, audit etc), the profitability of the firm in any given year, the number of their directly-reporting staff, the details of the partnership structure and a range of other factors. I’ve seen packages in the low-200s, ranging well up into seven-figure territory.

      You’re right that law firms are an entirely different ball-game, but let’s not pretend that any of these people are under-paid.

      And as far as the division of taxation burden goes, you might want to take a look at Keith Ng’s interactive tax graphic before digging yourself a hole that’s any deeper.

      • Jagilby 4.1.1

        Wow, thanks for the insight – I only worked in a big 4 for 5 years but clearly have no idea when it comes to the professional services business model.

        Of course I know that it’s ball park – I was simply highlighting that the author didn’t do his argument any good by not knowing the difference between the law and accounting professions and was caught clearly speculating.

        I think I’ll just continue to rely on expert opinion thanks.

        • Clarke 4.1.1.1

          Isn’t it a pity that you undermined your allegedly more accurate analysis with your own sloppiness further up-thread:

          Unions, believe it or not, are not experts in taxation law.

          If you read the ToR for the TWG you’ll see that a review of taxation law was not in-scope, so it’s immaterial whether unions have any expertise in the subject.

          As an aside Perter Conway (CTU) and Susan St John (Champagne Socialist) were involved with the TWG.

          As you should be fully aware, they made representation to the TWG, they did not sit on it.

  5. tc 5

    I’d like to see an equitable system……which you will not get with politically slanted groups such as the one Johhny clown had waste everyones time recently.

    This is an issue that requires a bi-partisan approach with the gov’t being able to take balanced equitable recommendations to transform the system…….highly unlikely.

    In so far as no-one in NZ being able to do that……possibly true unless they have knowledge and experience of economies with a braod tax base such as Oz and where that can be garnered from in NZ.

    This system needs an overhaul not a tinker, too many people accumulate untaxed wealth….property being obvious but CGT covers all cap gains not just property.

    Agree about labour not tempering the property bubble with a CGT or similar but then neither did the nat’s in the 90’s….I’m equally critical of both sides.

    You’ll find I howl often, as I want equality and without upsetting the rich and powerful with a CGT or similar it aint ever happening with NACT.

    And as for “no brainer to have alignment of the top tax rates across all forms of entities otherwise you end up in the mess Labour got us into too..” I find that simplistic and typical of the attitude that holds NZ back. Exactly the same of the nat’s after their spell in the 90’s as they had plenty of years and did nada.

  6. Jay 6

    Gawd… I find it so frustrating that people get on their high horse on a topic without even bothering to look at the whole picture. Firstly the report was a recommendation only, by a group of tax experts who donated their time to the project.

    Secondly no one seems to be making note of the point that one of the biggest problems in the NZ tax system is the wealthy just dont pay the top tax rate. The graph stops at $120k because a large number of people earning over that just use the law to avoid paying higher tax. Gawd, I’ve worked for guys earning over 200k per year but pay well less total tax than me who was earning well less than half of them.

    The working group was looking for ways to make a fairer system to avoid the wealthy avoiding so much tax. Their recommendations largely spread the tax burden away from middle income and put more burden on the upper income people (which is probably why it wont be adopted because these high income earners fund political parties… Nat and Labour alike). The intention was for it to be burden neutral for low income earners (i.e., they pay no more tax than now – remember the clear message in report to compensate for GST increases).

    The report wasnt about delivering less taxes for anyone. It was about a fairer system where there are less loopholes for the rich to exploit.

    • Clarke 6.1

      The report wasnt about delivering less taxes for anyone. It was about a fairer system where there are less loopholes for the rich to exploit.

      You’re right, it was partly about this – but it was also partly about re-balancing the taxation system.

      Personally, I’m all for equalising the personal, company and trust tax rates – it’s just that I think they should be set at the 35% or 36% mark rather than the aspirational 30% level the TWG seems to be aiming at, as this would produce a much more equitable outcome.

      Rationalisation and simplification of the tax code is a highly desirable outcome, but a reduction in progressiveness isn’t.

      • jagilby 6.1.1

        “I think they should be set at the 35% or 36% mark”

        Heh, this is absolutely comical. You think the job situation is bad now? Sit and watch manufacturers queue to leave the country if you increase the corporate tax rate to that level.

        I’m all for broadening the tax system and lowering these rates and encouraging aspiring young New Zealanders and promising New Zealand companies to stay and encouraging foreign companies to come to NZ. I think that makes more sense than trying to reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator.

        I recongise that any broadening the tax base for future left-aligned governments is akin to supplying pseudoephedrine to a P dealer but I, like you, have (or had) high hopes for this country and support moves to change incentives.

        captcha: think

        • Clarke 6.1.1.1

          Heh, this is absolutely comical. You think the job situation is bad now? Sit and watch manufacturers queue to leave the country if you increase the corporate tax rate to that level.

          C’mon jagilby, you can do better than this.

          The vast majority of businesses are in New Zealand for a reason. Fonterra can’t simply close down operations here and move overseas, as this is where the asset base is. Neither can Telecom or Vodafone, as this is where their customer base is. And as you’ll well know, most NZ business is small business, which might move (think tradespeople heading to Australia) but which have lots of family and emotional ties to keep them here – and given the barriers to entry are so low for these businesses, replacements would spring up rapidly.

          I’m not suggesting moving the rate up to 35% overnight, but my contention is that a well-telegraphed gradual move of rates over some years would have a very marginal impact.

          If tax rates were the primary cause of where people lived and worked, then there would have been a huge flight of high earners out of the country when Labour raised the top income tax rate to 39%. There’s no evidence that this occurred.

          As for what I’d do with the extra revenue, I would grant tax relief at the bottom end (rather than the top end) of the scale – basically set a tax-free threshold. This would also allow WFF to be killed, which strikes me as one of the dumber bits of bureaucracy I’ve ever seen – taking money off people via the tax system then giving it back via the welfare system (administered by IRD, no less!) has inefficiency written all over it; let’s just leave money in people’s pockets in the first place.

          • jagilby 6.1.1.1.1

            “I would grant tax relief at the bottom end (rather than the top end) of the scale basically set a tax-free threshold. This would also allow WFF to be killed which strikes me as one of the dumber bits of bureaucracy I’ve ever seen taking money off people via the tax system then giving it back via the welfare system (administered by IRD, no less!) has inefficiency written all over it; let’s just leave money in people’s pockets in the first place.”

            I can agree with every word of that (I think that the Australian $6k tax free threshold is a fantastic policy). Still need movement at the top end in conjunction with it though in my opinion. I just don’t see the top 10% paying much less under the proposal given they (in a lot of cases) don’t pay the top rate anyway and are likely to get caught with property recommendations – just changing incentives, incentives which I think we can agree are pretty farked at the moment.

            “The vast majority of businesses are in New Zealand for a reason. Fonterra can’t simply close down operations here and move overseas, as this is where the asset base is. Neither can Telecom or Vodafone”

            Alot of people would have included the likes of F&P appliances in that list 5 years ago… what happened there?

  7. Jim in Tokyo 7

    My understanding – and this was certainly stated more explicitly around the establishment of the TWG – was that the group’s brief was to flesh out “the Government’s medium-term goal of aligning the top personal, corporate and trust rates at 30%” (http://taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz/news/archive.php?year=2009&view=659).

    So, it’s not really accurate to say that an alignment at 30% was recommended by the group (as most of the MSM seem to have reported), but rather that the group recommended several possible ways for the government to achieve its 30/30/30 goal.

    This seems to me to be an important distinction.

    • Clarke 7.1

      Good point, and one I’d missed. You’re right – they’re simply giving effect to a pre-determined outcome.

  8. infused 8

    And if you really know the tax system, you won’t pay any tax at all..

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