James Shaw slams tax timidity, calls on Labour, NZ First to be bold with CGT

In his opening speech for the year in parliament yesterday Green co-leader James Shaw slammed timid tinkering with tax, and, confronting pontification about whether the current Government can “politically afford to do what no other Government before it has done” and introduce a Capital Gains Tax asks “Can we afford not to?”

That must be aimed at Labour and NZ First, who have to agree with Greens on any tax changes following the Tax Working Group process.

First Shaw illustrated the tax disparity issue wit no tax on the capital gains of property.

Karen is a renter. She’s got a career, and she earns roughly the median wage. Over the last 10 years, she’s earned about $450,000 and she’s paid, roughly, $70,000 in tax. She budgets well, she can manage the rent, and she can manage the other expenses, but she can’t quite have enough left over to save.

And then there’s Paul. Paul also earns the median wage. He’s a bit older than Karen, and Paul got lucky and managed to buy some rental property before house prices really started rocketing—about the time that Karen came into the workforce, about the time that John Key became Prime Minister. On the day that Paul sells that rental property, he makes as much as Karen has in the last 10 years, and he pays zero tax on that income

Now, what does Paul do? He uses that as a deposit to buy two more houses. That is the rational thing to do. And what does Karen do? Well, Karen keeps renting because there is no way on God’s green earth that she’s going to be able to scrape together a deposit on $45,000 a year.

And that, in a nutshell, is why we have a large and growing wealth gap in this country, and it is undermining our ability to pay for the public services that we all rely on, including Karen—including Paul.

There is something missing from this illustration.The implication here is that ‘Paul’ paid no tax, but ‘Paul’ must be earning something to live on for the ten years before scoring a capital gain, and after reinvesting capital gains on more property, so could have been paying some tax.

Now, the Green Party has long been calling for that fundamental imbalance to be addressed, and every single expert working group in living memory has agreed with us, but no Government—no Government—has been bold enough to actually do it. But if we are to be the Government of change that New Zealanders wanted and elected, we must be bold.

The crises that we face on multiple fronts—the wealth gap, climate change, the housing crisis—we cannot solve without fundamental reform. These crises have been allowed to metastasise because generations of politicians have timidly tinkered rather than actually cut to the core of the problem.

And the consequences of that timidity—the consequences of that timidity—are being felt by Karen and by hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders just like her, trapped in “Generation Rent”. So when the commentators pontificate about whether this Government can politically afford to do what no other Government before it has done, I ask “Can we afford not to?”

Can we afford not to?

We were elected on the promise of change. If we want to reduce the wealth gap, if we want to fix the housing crisis and to build a productive high-wage economy, we need to tax income from capital the same way that we tax income from work.

The very last question that we should be asking ourselves is: can we be re-elected if we do this? The only question we really ought to be asking ourselves is: do we deserve to be re-elected if we don’t?

Shaw is effectively throwing down the tax gauntlet to Labour and NZ First, suggesting they don’t deserve to be re-elected unless they introduce a CGT.

I have to say, boldness is needed everywhere, everywhere.

That is a challenge to the other parties in Government with the Greens. The re-election comment is particularly pertinent for NZ First, who were well under the threshold in the latest poll.

Tax reform and capital gains tax still unresolved

According to media claims the Cabinet has received copies of the Tax Working Group recommendations, but it could take some time to find out what they are going to decide to run with. – or what the are allowed to run with by Winston Peters.

Group chairman Michael Cullen has suggested that tax changes could be decided in Parliament this term ready to come into effect in April 2021 providing Labour gets a mandate in next year’s election. But Grant Robertson has warned that it could take some time to work through the recommendations with Labour’s partner parties in Government.

Audrey Young (in Major challenges for ‘exasperated’ Ardern):

Robertson played Robin to her Batman at the post-Cabinet presser, initially fronting on the Government response to the insurance industry inquiry.

The subject quickly changed to the final report of the Tax Working Group and its promised capital gains tax which is due to be handed to the Government this week.

Robertson patiently continued his mission to change the language over the tax by calling it a “capital income tax” rather than a “capital gains tax” — an attempt to equate it to all other income.

Ardern became impatient when questions turned to the undisputed veto that NZ First will have on any capital gains tax — the Greens have been unequivocal supporters and NZ First longstanding opponents.

Apparently a capital gains tax is just like every other issue the Government debates, and requires the agreement of all three parties.

Not just apparently. Tax reform is far from a done deal. It is a Labour only promise, but with no public agreement with either NZ First or the Greens.

Stuff:  Decision on capital gains tax will take a wee while, Grant Robertson warns

There will be no quick decision from the Government on whether to implement a capital gains tax, Finance Minister Grant Robertson has signalled – noting Labour would have to work that through with its coalition partners.

The Tax Working Group (TWG) chaired by Sir Michael Cullen is understood to have completed its report for the Government, with a “clear majority” favouring subjecting capital gains from the sale of property, shares and businesses to income tax.

But Robertson told RNZ the Government would need to take its time to read the TWG’s report “work through the details of it and work out what package we can agree to as a coalition government”.

Remarkably the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement did not mention the Tax Working Group, nor CGT, and neither did Labour-Green Confidence & Supply Agreement, so the recommendations of the TWG and what Labour would like to do will all need to be negotiated with Winston Peters and NZ First, as well as with the Greens. This alone is likely to take time.

Inland Revenue said on Tuesday morning that the report had not yet been delivered to the Government, and no date has been set for it to be made public, but sources said the report was being read in the Beehive.

Robertson said he expected to get the report by the end of the week but he and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did not rule out a coalition partner vetoing any legislation.

“There is a wee ways to go before the final decisions about this report will be made,” Robertson said.

“As we do with all these reports, we will take a look at it and put it out with a few interim comments from us,” he said.

So it could be some time even before the report is made public. Labour want to work out how to try to sell it before they advertise it.

Cullen said in December that he believed Parliament would have time to pass legislation paving the way for any proposed tax changes before the election, so those changes could take effect from April 2021.

Theoretically Parliament may have time, but Labour won’t want to take any tax changes to Parliament without agreement from NZ First, and the Greens.

Politik: And now the hard part; getting Winston to agree to a capital gains tax

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed yesterday that iot was still the government’s intention to bring forward legislation for any tax changes before the end of its current twerm though those changes would not come into effect until after the enxt election.

But whether it will propose a capital gains tax will now depend on whether it can persuade NZ First to agree.

Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson were coy yesterday on whether they thought they could win that derbate.

Meanwhile NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, is not saying much beyond repeating his 2017 assertion that we already had a capital gains tax.

“What i tried to point out then was that we had a cpaital ghaimn tax and that we had had one for a long time,” he told POLITIK last night.

“Now the question is are you talking about broadening it.

“The position of New Zealand First is that we will wait for the report, we will evaluate it and then we will give our view.”

Tax reform has already limited by Labour in their terms of reference for the TWG. They will presumably also want any changes to fit within their wellbeing agenda.

It will only happen if it also fits with the electoral wellbeing of Winston Peters and NZ First

Q+A – Michael Cullen on the Capital Gains Tax and TWG

Chairman of the Tax Working group, Michael Cullen, was interviewed on Q+A last night on Capital Gains Tax and water.

He was also interviewed on the Nation on Saturday.

Scoop: On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Tax Working Group Chair Michael Cullen

  • Sir Michael Cullen says there’s currently under-taxation at the top end of the income and wealth scale, and under his working group’s recommendations “people who have substantial capital assets in one form or another” would end up paying more.
  • Sir Michael disputes the effect Labour’s capital gains tax policy had on the party’s 2011 and 2014 election losses: “There was no real sign, actually, that that had any great impact in shifting votes around.”
  • He says some charities getting tax breaks might not be using their income for charitable purposes: “Some of those charities – at least on first examination – appear to not be passing on much of their income out to the supposed intended beneficiaries.”
  • Sir Michael says proposed environmental taxes on things like waste dumping would be aimed at changing behaviour, not increasing revenue: “Hopefully behaviour changes, so that the amount of money that you collect at the end of the day may not be much more… there’s just a lot less waste going to landfill.”
  • He says tax cuts for lower income earners would be an effective way to offset increased user-pays charges: “Actually reducing the bottom tax rate, or having even a tax-free area at the bottom, is more effective in compensation.”

Full transcript (Scoop)

The Q+A panel on Cullens interview and tax.

 

For and against a CGT and Michael Cullen interview on the Nation

Michael Cullen, ex finance minister and now chairman of the Tax Working Group, will be interviewed on Newshub Nation this morning at 9:30m am (repeated Sunday morning 10 am).

Following the release of the Tax Working Group’s interim report, Simon Shepherd sits down with its chairman Sir Michael Cullen to look at how tax changes could increase income equality and help the environment.

Future of Tax: Interim Report (PDF)

The contentious hobbled CGT should be a talking point.

Stuff:  Ministers issue fresh request to Tax Working Group to ‘consider inequality’

The Government has given the Tax Working Group a prod along after it stopped short of reaching a recommendation on the merits of a broad-based capital gains tax in its interim report.

It set out two models for what a broad-based tax on capital gains could look like in its interim report published on Thursday.

Chairman Sir Michael Cullen said “the key issue” it had looked at was tax on capital income, but said it was not a “no brainer”.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash immediately released a letter they had sent to the TWG.

The letter asked the TWG to “consider a package or packages of measures which reduces inequality, so that New Zealand better reflects the OECD average whilst increasing both fairness across the tax system and housing affordability”.

The ministers also asked the TWG to examine which of two models for taxing capital gains that the TWG considered “would be best to ensure the tax system was … fair and balanced”.

A source close to the TWG said the letter sent “a strong signal” about the Government’s desire for a broader capital gains tax.

Max Rushbrooke for a CGT and pro-equality tax changes: Tax report highlights NZ’s inequality issues

Though it may not have settled on an answer yet, yesterday’s interim report by the Tax Working Group was crystal clear about the problem: we have a tax system that does very little to enhance fairness and reduce inequality.

The need to restore fairness runs like a silver thread throughout the working group’s analysis. Hence one of its preferred options is to tax nearly all the gains that people make from selling assets.

…it would also help reduce inequality, because these so-called capital gains will be largely the preserve of the very well-off. Indeed, many of these people have become adept at disguising their income as capital gains in order to avoid paying tax.

There are, of course, some downsides to introducing a thorough tax on capital gains. It creates more reporting requirements, and could encourage people to hold on to assets for longer. But these seem like minor problems when set against its major benefits.

Peter Dunne is against it: It’s time to bury the capital gains tax

The spectre of a capital gains tax on residential property sales and other substantial assets has loomed large over the New Zealand tax scene for about fifty years now.

Government is a little different, but the outcome seems likely to be the same. While this time the Government has left open the possibility of a capital gains tax, it is the Tax Working Party that looks likely to rule it out, saying the issue is ultimately a political one. And, given the Government’s commitment not to introduce such a tax before it gets a specific renewed electoral mandate, the prospects look as distant as ever. Very few governments win elections promising to introduce more taxes.

All of which raises the question as to why the capital gains issue keeps getting raised, especially since the arguments in favour from both a revenue gathering and efficiency perspective are not that strong.

Advice I received when Minister of Revenue was that it could be over a decade from the time of introducing a broader based capital gains tax until it produced any significant revenue gain for the Government.

Also, it has been long accepted that the family home would have to be exempted from any such regime, further diminishing its likely impact. Even in the rental sector, the impact would likely be negative for tenants, with landlords boosting rents to offset any negative tax impact when those properties are sold.

… the application of a capital gains tax to other substantial items would be just as fraught, as items will appreciate over time at different rates, while some will depreciate. The administration of such a tax will impose additional strains and complexities on an already struggling tax system for not much revenue gain.

When tax policy moves too far into the area of engineering income redistribution or social equity complicated issues invariably arise at the margins, which the tax system, by virtue of its blanket approach, is not well designed to cope with.

All of which means that the Government would do far better to focus its ongoing attention on ensuring that the greatest amount possible of all taxes currently levied is collected before embarking on the imposition of new or additional taxes.

For all these reasons it is time to bury the capital gains tax argument for good, and focus afresh on tax policy that works, rather than just feels good.

 

UPDATE:


Audrey Young: Capital gains tax defining issue for Labour, NZ First

Tax could make or break Government at the next election. Illustration / Guy Body

One thing is clear after this week’s tax report – tax could make or break the Government at the next election, and a capital gains tax (CGT) will be a defining issue for the relationship between Labour and New Zealand First.

The tax blunder last time taught Jacinda Ardern and then finance spokesman Grant Robertson that the “how” of progressing a policy is as important as the “what”.

Capital gains tax has been an integral part of the post-Clark Labour story. In a sense, Robertson owes his job as Finance Minister to it.

It may be that New Zealand First sees CGT as such a defining issue for Labour that it is obliged to support it as an article of good faith.

Both parties will also be mindful of the integrating effect of the policy on the Coalition.

Because the capital gains tax would not take effect until after the election, it would bind the Coalition partners, Labour and New Zealand First, closer together and require Peters and Ardern to campaign jointly under their tax policy.

That will fundamentally change the dynamics of the next election, whatever the merits and disadvantages of a capital gains tax itself.

 

 

Cullen confirms CGT will not be addressed in interim TWG report

Michael Cullen, chairman of the tax Working Group, has confirmed that the interim report due to be released this month will make no recommendations on a Capital Gains Tax.

Stuff: Absence of tax recommendation means ‘more uncertainty for longer’, says National

The Tax Working Group will not recommend whether or not New Zealand should get a broad-based capital gains tax, in an interim report due out this month, chairman Sir Michael Cullen has confirmed.

Stuff had previously reported that any recommendation on the controversial tax would be deferred until the working group publishes its final report in February.

Cullen said on Wednesday that he was “happy to confirm that”.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has played down the implications, saying the work the Tax Working Group was involved in was “always supposed to be a two-stage process”.It seems remarkable that one of Labour’s most prominent policies and their big tax policy, CGT, would not be addressed on the first report.

Surely for a tax package to make any sense it would include the major components, in general terms at least.

As Amy Adams says, this won’t do anything to address uncertainty in the business community.

It seems to confirm that what the TWG would like to recommend on a workable CGT is outside the parameters given them, or Labour have indicated is not something they want to hear at this stage.

 

Tax Working Group throwing CGT football back at Labour?

It is reported that the Tax Working Group may throw the Capital Gains Tax football back at Labour, deeming a decision on it being too political for them. Perhaps it is more of a hot potato.

While the CGT was a prominent part of Labour policy the WTG was limited in what they could recommend. For example they were instructed to exclude family homes from any CGT recommendations, which complicates things substantially.

And it appears that, again, the Government is asking for (forcing?) amendments to media articles after they are first posted.

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Capital gains tax debate not over, Grant Robertson suggests

The Tax Working Group is understood to have stopped short of recommending a broad-based capital gains tax, in an interim report due out within days.

The working group chaired by Sir Michael Cullen was tasked with designing a capital gains tax for consideration by the Government, but is expected to push back any firm recommendation to its final report which is due to be published in February.

It had been widely expected that the Tax Working Group (TWG) would recommend a broad-based capital gains tax on the likes of sharemarket and property investments as the centrepiece of tax reforms on which Labour would fight the next election.

However, doubts began creep in earlier this year that the Government would ultimately back the plan, amid concerns the new tax would be unpopular and would cause rents to rise without delivering much in the way of extra revenue for at least a decade.

Paul Drum, chief executive of accounting body CPA Australia, said in a newspaper column that “a close reading of the tea leaves” suggested the “highly important and politicised” issue of the capital gains tax “is probably to be parked for further consultation and input”.

Sir Michael Cullen hinted that was on the money, saying he had “not reacted strongly to that comment”.

Interestingly, the headline was changed some time after that article was posted online. The original article name:

CGT in doubt as bid to outsource political decision hits snags

Now:

Capital gains tax debate not over, Grant Robertson suggests

Some content was also changed. Earlier:

The Tax Working Group is understood to have stopped short of recommending a broad-based capital gains tax, in an interim report due out within days.

Now:

The Tax Working Group is understood to have stopped short of recommending a broad-based capital gains tax in an interim report, but Finance Minister Grant Robertson has played down the report’s significance.

I think this has been added:

Robertson confirmed the Government had received the interim report which he said would be released soon.

But he said the work was “always supposed to be a two-stage process” and commentators were “getting a bit ahead of themselves”.

And some content has been edited out.

It looks like Labour is a bit sensitive about the Tax Working Group in relation to the Capital Gains Tax.

Considering their obvious influence over media coverage (the Prime Minister’s office jumped into media coverage of Jacinda Ardern’s misleading over the Clare Curran resignation last Friday), I wonder how much Robertson and Labour may be trying to influence Cullen and/or the Tax Working Group?


Also, from Newsroom:  Capital Gains Tax looks less likely

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that she had not “set expectations” about what the working group currently considering tax reform would recommend to the Government.

Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson established the working group in March with terms of reference including, “whether a system of taxing capital gains or land (not applying to the family home or the land under it), or other housing tax measures, would improve the tax system”.

But Labour’s plan to de-politicise the CGT appears to have failed, with reports now circulating the working group intends to push a recommendation on a CGT back to the Government.

Ardern said she would allow the group to do its work and would not prefigure what it would produce — outside of the parameters established in its terms of reference.

But Robertson is actively trying to influence the reporting.

Newsroom understands the interim report has recently been handed to Robertson and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash. Officials will then digest the report before releasing it to the public.

So the ‘leaking’ of the CGT information could have come from a number of places, for a number of reasons.

The group’s final report is due in February. Labour will then choose tax proposals from the report to take to the electorate in the 2020 election. Should they win, the proposals would be implemented in April 2021.

So the Tax Working Group looks like a policy development exercise for Labour in Preparation for the 2020 election..

Rental housing market risk

Many people rely on rental accommodation, through choice or financial necessity (they can’t afford to but their own house). People who buy houses and rent them out provide a vital service. The Government cannot provide homes for everyone.

The rental market and landlords have received a lot of attention from politicians over the last few years as housing prices escalated again after recovery from the Global Financial Crisis – property values had already doubled when the Clark government was in power.

A lot of that attention has been negative, in part for political and campaign purposes.

The Government is set to make changes that will significantly affect housing investments. This poses a risk to the whole housing market if it deters too many people from staying in or getting into property investment.

RNZ:  Landlords bail on rental market: ‘It is just not worth it’

Many private landlords are bailing out of the rental market because they are worried about the new government’s housing policies, say property experts.

If too many landlords sell up, and not enough new investors step in, housing values are at risk of dropping, and there could be a shortage of rental housing.

The experts say landlords are being tempted to take their capital gain and run, before harsh new rules undermine the value of their investments.

The concerns have arisen as the government moves to implement dramatic reforms of the housing market.

The looming changes include:

* A capital gains tax on second homes, depending on the outcome of a special tax inquiry.

* The imposition of ‘ring-fencing rules’, which would reduce tax deductibility for rental houses, by ensuring losses cannot be set off against other income.

* An extension of the ‘bright line test’, under which anyone selling a rental home within five years would be deemed a trader and would therefore be taxed.

Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King said these planned changes were scaring off investors from the property market.

He said the personal hostility directed against landlords was another issue.

“There’s been a lot of animosity against rental property owners. There is a lot of misinformation about their tax situation, a lot of people think it is easy money when it is not.

“There are also changes to the how the property can be managed, and there are a lot of increased costs.

“A lot of people are thinking it is just not worth it and are looking at getting out.”

If too many do get out of property investment it will create different problems for the Government – and potentially for for people who have purchased high valued property with large mortgages.

The government has dismissed criticism of its policies as anecdotal.

It said its housing policies were aimed at overcoming accommodation shortages.

Landlords are an essential part of providing accommodation – and that’s not anecdotal.

Greens will push Labour to advance CGT

James Shaw has just said that the Greens would push Labour to bring forward a Capital Gains Tax in post-election coalition negotiations, in an interview on Q+A.

This came just after Jacinda Ardern reiterated her back-flip on pushing any possible CGT out until after the next election in 2020.

Shaw said that the CGT would be one of a couple priorities in coalition negotiations.

This won’t help alleviate uncertainties about what a Labour led government might do on tax next term.

This also highlights the uncertainties voters face when presented with individual party policies when what we end up getting is negotiated compromises – or small party policies are potentially used as an excuse to sneak in different policies.

In a following interview Winston Peters stated that CGT would be off the table as far as NZ First was concerned.

Labour’s ‘tax working group’

Labour have been saying for some time that in government they would set up a ‘tax working group of experts” to examine options for reforming our tax system.

Grant Robertson on 29 March 2017: Speech to launch the Budget Responsibility Rules

We recognise that the best taxation systems have three key characteristics – they are fair, simple, and collected. The current taxation system fails this test and needs reform. In government we propose to establish a tax working group of experts to examine how best to deliver tax changes that are positive for the economy and New Zealand taxpayers.

On 13 May 2013: Grant Robertson speech to Congress 2017

We need a fresh approach.   If we want a fair share of prosperity for all New Zealanders then we need a better, more balanced and fairer tax system. We are determined to get this right.

That is why we are establishing a tax working group in government.  It will not be the random and unfocused undertaking we saw from National.  It will have a mandate.   A mandate to develop a system that has the values of simplicity, fairness and collectability.  A system where multinationals pay their fair share, where income, assets and wealth are all treated fairly, and where the new and different world of work is recognised.

In advance of that review we have made some decisions that give a clear indication of our thinking.  We are cracking down on tax loopholes for property speculators, including through taxing anyone who flips an investment property within five years.  We are also saying that with the changing technology it will be possible to more accurately assess your tax obligations- and therefore we can get rid of secondary tax.

Labour have been criticised for not being up front on what they will do on tax if they get into government. Deferring to their proposed tax working group is seen as a way of avoiding saying what they intend to do, especially regarding Capital Gains Tax.

Under Jacinda Ardern’s leadership there have been more decisions made, so while they are using the tax working group as an excuse for not being clear about some plans there are a number of things that they have already specified

RNZ:  They were PREFU fighting, Dunne dusted & when minors attack

Labour’s standing by its decision to set up a tax working group should it become government and take advice from it on how to reform the tax system. Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson claim the current tax system isn’t fair, but won’t openly campaign on what they think a fair system looks like.

While it’s widely assumed Labour is inclined towards introducing a Capital Gains Tax (they campaigned on one in 2011 and 2014), Ardern insists she won’t make up her mind until she’s seen the tax group’s recommendations.

But Ardern has already made up her mind on a number of tax issues. And:

Yet as Guyon and Lisa point out in the podcast, she has confirmed that she and Robertson will appoint the members of the group, so can more or less ensure the result she wants.

Particularly if they have have already decided on many key aspects of tax.

Vernon Small in We were expecting lollies, but the surpluses refused to come to the party

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and her finance spokesman Grant Robertson followed that up by scotching any plans for a personal tax increase, either now or as a result of the tax working group the party plans to set up after the election.

In fact the agenda for that working group – and the range of tax changes Labour may countenance – is shrinking faster than the forecast surplus.

Ardern on Wednesday also flipped any possible change to GST into the out tray.

So the list of things the working group will not countenance now includes a capital gains tax (CGT) on the family home, a tax on unrealised capital gains, any increase in income tax – including a new higher top rate – and GST.

Labour has already confirmed it would increase to five years the brightline test when capital gains tax is automatically levied on the sale of investment properties – although that could be part of the working group’s mix. It also has in train a royalty on irrigation and bottled water and an levy on tourists.

That seems to leave the working group with a wafer-thin agenda that includes residual issues around a CGT and perhaps the option of a land tax.

  • Labour won’t rule out a CGT (interpreted as wanting to impose one).
  • Any CGT would exclude family homes.
  • Won’t rule out CGT on businesses and farms.
  • No increase to the top PAYE tax rates.
  • Will scrap the currently planned PAYE tax cuts due 1 April 2018.
  • No increase to GST.
  • Will scrap secondary tax.
  • Will put a ‘royalty’ (tax) on bottled water and irrigation.
  • Will put a levy on tourists.

Are there any more to add to this list? This is already a significant number of significant limitations that Labour would supposedly impose on any tax working group of experts.

Ardern seems to have made up her mind about many taxes, but keeps using the ‘tax working group’ as an excuse for not campaigning on a Capital Gains Tax that, if they implement, would be badly hobbled by excluding  family homes, which involve over half property sales.

 

Labour’s capital gains tax plans

Labour’s campaign plans for a Capital Gains Tax seems to be to say how bad a lack of a CGT is, but not admit the intention to introduce one once they are leading government.

Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford on The Nation:

Lisa Owen: So is it Labour’s goal to get it down to that – about four times?

Phil Twyford: We want to stabilise the housing market and stop these ridiculous, year on year, capital gains that have made housing unaffordable for a whole generation of young Kiwis.

Lisa Owen: But in essence, you’re going to drop the value of houses, if you want them to be four times the price of the average income.

Phil Twyford: Well, we’re going to build through KiwiBuild. We’re going to 100,000 affordable homes.

Lisa Owen: I want to come to KiwiBuild in a moment. I just want to talk to you about the price.

Phil Twyford: That will make housing affordable for young Kiwi families. That’s our policy.

Lisa Owen: Well, do you need a capital gains tax to get that threshold down to where you would want it to be?

Phil Twyford: Well, we are going to shift the goalposts by taxing speculators. So under our plan, if a speculator sells within five years—

Lisa Owen: Yeah, that’s the bright-line. I am asking you about capital gains – a bit of a sensitive issue for Labour.

Phil Twyford: Not a sensitive issue at all.

Lisa Owen: So do you think we need a capital gains—?

Phil Twyford: If a speculator sells a rental property within five years, they will pay income tax on the capital gain.

Twyford keeps referring to taxing speculators. He must know that speculators and property developers who by and sell property with the intention of making a capital gain are taxed now.

From Inland Revenue “If you’re selling a residential property and one of your intentions when you bought the property was to sell it, then you’ll have tax to pay on any profit you make from its resale.” – http://www.ird.govt.nz/property/property-selling/selling-property.html

The bright line test (currently two years, Labour say they will increase it to five years) just makes it easier for IRD to enforce taxing capital gains.

Lisa Owen: Yeah, we know about the bright-line. What we don’t know about is a capital gains tax. So do you think that you need a capital gains tax to get house prices down to the ratios that you think are right?

Phil Twyford: Well, we think comprehensive tax reform is overdue in this country, not only to tilt the playing field away from real estate speculation

Lisa Owen: Last chance – capital gains tax?

Amy Adams: Answer the question, Phil.

Phil Twyford: In the first three years, we’re going to do a tax working group that will redesign the entire tax system.

So Labour are campaigning on “redesign the entire tax system” but generally avoid saying whether their intention is to include a more comprehensive capital gains tax.

The lack of pre-election clarity on Labour’s CGT intentions continued on Q+A yesterday. Grant Robertson repeated how ‘transparent’ Labour has been, and said Labour “won’t shy away from hard decisions”, but refused to be transparent about their intended decisions on a CGT.

Grant Robertson: It’s also about cracking down on speculators. We have to make sure that if someone’s flipping their third or fourth property within five years of of buying it then they’ll pay tax on that.

I would be very surprised if that example wasn’t already covered by current tax law and  IRD now. See Property tax decision tree – Is your property sale taxable? “To work out if the property you are buying or selling is taxable”.

Grant Robertson: “We’re saying that we’ve got to take some action both in terms of cracking down on speculators, building more affordable homes, and we will get better balance in our housing market.

Corin Dann: A capital gains tax. You need to clear up for us what exactly is the position here, because it’s, what’s going? Is there going to be a capital gains tax within side the next three years if you’re elected.

Grant Robertson: So we’ve been absolutely clear. We’re going to this election with a policy that says that if you sell off an investment property, not your family home, within five years, you will pay tax on that. That’s building on a form of capital gains tax that Steven’s government’s introduced.

What we’ve then said, and I’ve been saying since 2015, is that we will have a working group that will look at getting a better balance into our tax system, between how we tax assets, and how we tax income.

Labour wants ‘a better balance’ – that is, a change.

Corin Dann: Would you seek a mandate for that capital gains tax?

Grant Robertson: Just as the working group that Steven had in 2010, didn’t go back to the election and then increased GST, which he’d campaigned against, we will look at the outcomes of that.

It seems clear that Labour has intentions to introduce a more comprehensive CGT if elected (if the working group they appoint recommends it), before the 2020 election.

Corin Dann: That’s a change from Andrew Little.

Grant Robertson: It is a change from Andrew Little.

A significant change. In 2015 Little told The Nation: “Well, we won’t introduce it in our first term, and we won’t introduce any change that significant to the tax system, any material change to the tax system, without going to the people first and getting a mandate to do so.”

Grant Robertson: Let me be absolutely clear about this. We have a housing crisis. We’re not going to sit on our hands for years, the first term of government and not do anything about that. I want the experts to talk to us about that.

Steven, is it right at the moment that someone who goes to work every day, pays tax on every cent of their income, that someone who flips a property after owning it for three years doesn’t tax on that property?

Steven Joyce: Well actually…that’s actually taxed now. So there’s the news for you Grant, if someone actually buys a house, gets an income…

Grant Robertson: Why did you put a bright line test on it then?

See Govt to tighten tax on capital gains (RNZ)  on the budget announced in May- “Capital gains on residential properties bought and sold within two years will soon be taxed by the Government. Unlike the current regime, the new test will not rely on proving a seller’s intent to make a capital gain.”

Steven Joyce: That’s the absolute minimum, under the New Zealand law right now if you’re buying and selling houses for profit you must pay tax.

You know that’s not happening…

Steven Joyce: Well actually it is happening now, that’s the truth, if you go and have a look at Inland Revenue that’s the case.

But coming back to your point. So you’re saying a capital gains tax, is that on unearned capital gains? So when the value of somebody’s business goes up, or somebody’s farm goes up, this us why you don’t want to talk about it…

Grant Robertson: This is why we’re doing a working group.

Steven Joyce: I get that. So that’s why you don’t want to talk about it.

Grant Robertson: This is why…because we’re not going to shy away from the tough challenges.

Steven Joyce: So it could be on the business.

Grant Robertson: We’ve been absolutely clear. If we ever put a capital gains tax on it would not apply to the family home, but right around the world people do this to stop speculators in the housing market.

Turning to Joyce.

Corin Dann: Is it an equity issue, is it a fairness issue? People have made an enormous amount on capital, and income earners, the vast bulk of the population who are earning wages are not seeing anywhere near the gains of capital.

Steven Joyce: In terms of capital gains tax the answer to that question is it depends on what it is. If it’s an unearned capital gain, which is actually what a comprehensive capital gains tax is, ie if your house price goes up in value the tax man sends you a bill, or if it’s your business goes up in value the Tax man sends you a bill, or if your farm goes up in value the tax man sends you, that’s what a capital gains tax is about, that you get taxed on capital gains.

Corin Dann: So how is it that the OECD, the IMF, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, just about every mainstream economic organisation you can think of says New Zealand has needed a capital gains tax for years.

Steven Joyce: Yeah but they want it on the family home. That’s what they want.These are the theoreticians saying tax the family home, and tax them on the unearned capital gain every year, so you should get a bill at the end of the year, if your house has gone up a hundred thousand dollars you should get a bill for thirty thousand dollars or whatever your tax rate is for that unearned capital gain.

That’s never going to fly, Grant’s acknowledged that, but what he isn’t telling people…

Grant Robertson: exactly because we’re not proposing that.

Even if Labour’s working group recommends it.

Steven Joyce: …he’s not telling people whether it would go on their business or on their farm or on their second house…

Corin Dann: Well lets clear that up because it will come up.

Grant Robertson: What we want to do is to address the fact that we’ve got a huge imbalance in our tax system between hardworking people who go to work every day and pay their taxes and people who are speculating in the property market who don’t. We’re going to get the experts in. We’ve been transparent about this…

Steven Joyce: Have you ruled out small businesses?

Steven Joyce: Are you going to rule out small businesses?

Grant Robertson: …we’ve been transparent about this from the very beginning. In 2015 I announced that we were going to be having this working group. What we’re not prepared to do is shy away from hard issues, and that’s what Steven and his Government have done for nine years.

Steven Joyce: Are you saying that you won’t be taxing small businesses on their capital gains?

Grant Robertson: We are focussed on the speculation in the housing market.

Steven Joyce: Is that saying you won’t…

Grant Robertson: We’re focussed…because I actually want to listen to the experts

Steven Joyce: …so you won’t do farms?

Grant Robertson: I don’t want to shy away from these tough issues…

Steven Joyce: …will you do capital gains on farms?

Grant Robertson: This is about speculation in the housing market.

Steven Joyce: No I don’t think it is, because he’s refusing to rule it out.

 

 

Robertson keeps pushing for tax on property speculation, which is already taxable, but keeps refusing to say whether they will widen tax to capital gains on businesses.

Despite Roberton’s assertions that Labour is being transparent and won’t shy away from ‘the hard issues they are very shy about saying what sort of capital gains tax they want to introduce next term if they are in government.

I expect this to keep coming up through the campaign. Jacinda Ardern will need to be well prepared on this or Bill English will hammer her and Labour on CGT.