Robertson ‘surprised’ by reaction to CGT capitulation – yeah, right

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson has belatedly tried to defend the decision of Cabinet to drop any plans for a Capital Gains Tax, and the decision of Jacinda Ardern to rule out trying to bring in a CGT at any time under her leadership.

A CGT had been a prominent Labour Party policy, and was the main focus of the Tax Working Group led by ex-Labour Finance Minister, Michael Cullen.

It has been justifiably been noted that Ardern and Robertson did little to promote or sell the CGT after the release of the Working Group recommendations.

NZ Herald: Finance Minister Grant Robertson leaps to defence of PM Jacinda Ardern over Capital Gains Tax ‘leadership’ claims

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said he was surprised that the capital gains tax decision was getting such a strong reaction and he said claims that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had shown a lack of leadership over it was “ridiculous.”

“I’m not surprised that there are people who feel strongly about the importance of getting better balance back into the tax system.”

He understood they were disappointed, as he was.

“What I am a bit surprised about the extent to which people are defining the Government by this decision when I believe we have done a lot to be proud of in terms of making New Zealand a fairer and better place, including within the tax system by closing GST loopholes, extending the brightline test and ring-fencing of rental income losses.

Ardern and Labour have been blasted by people on the left who had been sold the idea that a CGT was a significant policy that would help create ‘a fairer and better place’.

“I feel that we have done a lot that is progressive and important, so I am a little bit surprised by that reaction,” Robertson told the Herald.

Robertson shouldn’t be surprised (and I doubt that he is surprised much if at all).

“It would have represented a shift at the core of our tax system so I understand why people see it as significant but there are other ways of achieving fairness and that is what we are focused on.”

Are they focussed on standing up to or sidelining Winston Peters?  If they want to deliver the sort of ‘fairness’ and transformation that Ardern has sold the political left then they should be dealing with their biggest problem.

“In the end, we cannot beat the maths of the Government and that’s the reality of where we are.

Robertson and Ardern and Labour were there as soon as they formed a coalition government with NZ First in 2017. But they have strung everyone along with their Tax Working Group for fifteen months. They can’t have only just worked out the maths of their Government.

“The Prime Minister has shown immense leadership over recent months on a number of topics. It’s just on this particular issue, the Coalition couldn’t find consensus.”

It’s not just on this particular issue, but it is a significant failure for Labour.

Robertson said the Labour Party’s New Zealand Council were consulted about taking the policy off the table.

“I’m sure many of the New Zealand Council were disappointed in the same way I was that we couldn’t get it over the line this time,” said Robertson. “But they were certainly consulted and were part of this decision.”

A part of the decision? It’s hard to see this involving any more than being told that Winston said NO. Perhaps the Labour Council was a part of Ardern’s decision to rule out any CGT under her leadership in the future – but what about the Labour members who thought that CGT was a big thing?

“There will be plenty of ideas inside the party around how we can create the fairest possible tax system. It’s just it won’t include a capital gains tax.”

“The fairest possible tax system”, minus whatever NZ First don’t agree with. But more than that, minus any possible future CGT, with a good chance NZ First won’t be around to stop it.

“I know most members of the Labour Party understand the importance of being able to be in Government and make change and every now and then there will be something we don’t do that we would like to do but we are achieving a lot alongside that.”

What a lot of unconvincing waffle.

Robertson was largely silent when the CGT needed to be promoted. This is far too late and too unconvincing.  This just reinforces the suggestion that he and Ardern had given up on getting a CGT long ago, probably as soon as they signed the coalition agreement with NZ First.

I’ll ask again whether this was a done deal in the coalition document that Labour have refused to make public.

Government response to the Tax Working Group recommendations

Most of the attention on the Government response to the recommendations from the Tax Working Group report was on the scrapping of plans for any new type of Capital Gains Tax. See CGT backdown, everyone claims victory.

But the report also covered a number of other tax changes.

Beehive:  Govt responds to Tax Working Group report

The Coalition Government today released its response to the recommendations of the independent Tax Working Group report.

The report found that on the whole New Zealand’s tax system was working well, but made a number of recommendations to improve fairness, balance and structure.

The Government is not adopting any of the recommendations on capital gains taxation and has agreed no further work is necessary on that aspect of the report.

Winston Peters said no, so Labour and the Greens agreed that their CGT plans were stuffed.

“The final report covered all aspects of the tax system, and a number of the recommendations will now be considered for inclusion in the Government’s Tax Policy Work Programme,” Grant Robertson said.

“That includes exploring options for targeting land speculation and land banking.

“We intend to direct the Productivity Commission to include vacant land taxes within its inquiry into local government funding and financing,” Grant Robertson said.

Exploring options? I thought that’s what the TWG was supposed to have done.  But now they are going on to exploring more and doing another inquiry. Given the supposed purpose of the TWG, this sounds like further kicking of the tax can down a dusty potholed road.

“Officials have been directed to prioritise work on the TWG’s recommendations on ways to encourage investment in significant infrastructure projects and improve the integrity of the tax system to crack down on tax dodgers,” Stuart Nash said.

A refreshed tax policy work programme will be released mid-year.

So yesterday they announced what they plan on announcing later in the year.

The Coalition Government reiterated it will not introduce resource rentals for water or a fertiliser tax in this term of Parliament.

Another Peters veto of Labour and Green plans?

Other priorities for the Government this year include progressing legislation for research and development tax incentives; GST on low-value goods from offshore suppliers; a discussion document on a digital services tax, and further work to ensure multinationals pay their fair share of tax.

On to a discussion document and further work on things that have been talked about for years.

Summary of the Government’s responses to the recommendations

In that summary there are a number of TWG recommendations flagged as “Endorse the TWG recommendation” – in just about every case the recommendation is not to change anything.

There are several recommendations flagged as “Consider as a high priority for work programme”, meaning no decision has been made on what to do.

What was this Government response for? It has done little but admit they were abandoning any CGT plans indefinitely.

Growing warnings about world economic outlook

In general the world economy has recovered and prospered since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, but there are growing warnings that the bubble might at least slow down. There is always a risk of it bursting.

International Monetary Fund:  World Economic Outlook, April 2019 Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

After strong growth in 2017 and early 2018, global economic activity slowed notably in the second half of last year, reflecting a confluence of factors affecting major economies.

China’s growth declined following a combination of needed regulatory tightening to rein in shadow banking and an increase in trade tensions with the United States.

The euro area economy lost more momentum than expected as consumer and business confidence weakened and car production in Germany was disrupted by the introduction of new emission standards; investment dropped in Italy as sovereign spreads widened; and external demand, especially from emerging Asia, softened.

Elsewhere, natural disasters hurt activity in Japan. Trade tensions increasingly took a toll on business confidence and, so, financial market sentiment worsened, with financial conditions tightening for vulnerable emerging markets in the spring of 2018 and then in advanced economies later in the year, weighing on global demand.

Conditions have eased in 2019 as the US Federal Reserve signalled a more accommodative monetary policy stance and markets became more optimistic about a US–China trade deal, but they remain slightly more restrictive than in the fall.

Greg Jericho (Guardian Australia): The outlook for the global economy goes from bright to precarious

At the start of last year things were looking almost upbeat. The title of the IMF’s January update, Brighter Prospects, Optimistic Markets, Challenges Ahead, is economic speak for “cripes, aren’t we all a bit unusually happy!”. By April 2018 the title had become “Cyclical Upswing, Structural Change”, which again spoke of economic sunshine, even if it did warn of the need to adjust to the post-GFC world.

By the middle of last year the July update was warning “Less Even Expansion, Rising Trade Tensions”, and the October outlook was a decidedly measured if still somewhat neutral, “Challenges to Steady Growth”.

But with this new year, all neutrality has disappeared. The January update stated it plain: “A Weakening Global Expansion”. And just in case you had not caught their drift, the latest outlook, released this week, was headed, “Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

From brighter prospect to precarious recovery in less than two years. Hope you enjoyed that moment of economic joy while it lasted.

The decline is across roughly 70% of the world’s economies, with the IMF blaming the “escalation of US–China trade tensions”, troubles in the “auto sector in Germany” plus “tighter credit policies in China, and financial tightening alongside the normalization of monetary policy in the larger advanced economies.”

In effect the structural changes and rising trade tensions warned in previous outlooks all came to pass.

Financial Times:  US consumer sentiment misses view as economic outlook softens

US consumer sentiment dipped in April as consumers’ economic outlook weakened and as they thought “stimulative impact” of the tax overhaul “has run its course”.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment survey slid to 96.9 in April, from 98.4 the previous month. That missed analysts’ expectations for a drop to 98, according to a Thomson Reuters survey of economists.

Despite the modest decline, sentiment over the past 30 months remains higher than any other time since the 1997-2000 US economic expansion, as consumer confidence “continued its sideways shuffle in early April”, the report noted.

The report also showed the impact of the 2018 US tax overhaul on consumer sentiment has “all but disappeared”. The decline in consumer confidence follows the best first quarter for the S&P 500 in 21 years but comes amid uncertainty about the US economic outlook. The report showed the index of consumer expectations about the future fell to 85.8 — its lowest level in more than a year — from 88.8 the previous month.

Officials at the Federal Reserve have outlined “significant uncertainties” over the US and global economic outlook, according to the minutes of the central bank’s latest meeting, with some officials stressing their outlook could “shift in either direction”.

The Newyorker: The High-Stakes Battle Between Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve

For months now, Trump has been publicly railing against the Fed. In private, Bloomberg reported, he has been asking his aides if he can fire Powell, a sixty-six-year-old Republican banker who was confirmed at the start of last year. (According to legal experts, the question is a murky one.) On Friday, Trump again defied the convention that the President stays out of monetary policy, calling on Powell and his colleagues to cut interest rates in order to boost the economy.

Referring to the rate hikes that the Fed introduced last year, which were the source of his animus toward Powell, Trump said, “I think they really slowed us down.” Trump’s senior economic adviser in the White House, Larry Kudlow, has also called for a rate cut.

In addition to jawboning the Fed, Trump has moved to exert more control over its deliberations by announcing his intention to nominate two of his ardent political supporters to its board of directors: Stephen Moore, a conservative commentator who served as an economic adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, and Herman Cain, a Republican businessman who ran for President, in 2012.

Ignoring widespread criticism that neither Moore nor Cain is remotely qualified to sit on the Fed’s board, Kudlow said on Sunday that Trump is standing behind both of them. “We have two open seats,” he told CNN. “The President has every right in the world to nominate people who share his economic philosophy.”

Business Insider: Trump’s pick of former pizza-chain CEO Herman Cain for the Federal Reserve already looks like it could crash and burn

It’s been less than a week since President Donald Trump announced the selection of Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, for the Federal Reserve Board. The outlook already doesn’t look good for the potential nomination.

Washington Post: Four Senate Republicans signal opposition to Trump’s plan to put Herman Cain on Federal Reserve Board, all but sinking nomination

A swift defection of at least four Senate Republicans has all but doomed Herman Cain’s chances of winning a seat on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, a striking rebuke to President Trump in his drive to remake the powerful U.S. central bank.

The rapid rejection of Cain — a 2012 GOP presidential candidate — pauses Trump’s effort to remold the central bank into a more political body with outspoken individuals who share his views. It also reflects a growing unease among Senate Republicans with the way Trump has tried to bend the institution to his will in the past six months.

Trump has jawboned Fed officials and pushed them to slash interest rates and flood the economy with cheap money, even though during his presidential campaign he accused the central bank of creating a “big, fat, ugly bubble.”

So uncertainty in the US doesn’t help.

RNZ Robertson: NZ economy well placed to handle impact of global downturn

The IMF is predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries in the face of a delicate moment for the global economy, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

Two days ago the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for world economic growth this year as the global economy slowed more than expected, raising risks of a sharp downturn.

The impact of trade tensions between the United States and China and issues in Europe, including Brexit and some poorer performing economies among EU member countries, were among key risks contributing to a “delicate moment” for the global economy, IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said.

In its third downgrade since October, the IMF said the global economy will likely grow 3.3 percent this year, the slowest expansion since 2016. The forecast cut 0.2 percentage points from the IMF’s outlook in January.

The projected growth rate for next year was unchanged at 3.6 percent.

Mr Robertson, who is at IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, told Morning Report the IMF was predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries.

However, with economies slowing down in other parts of the world, there would be an impact for New Zealand as a small trading nation. The economy remained strong with sound fundamentals, including relatively low debt, low unemployment, and surpluses in the 2018 Budget.

So while the New Zealand outlook is relatively good any slowdown elsewhere in the world, especially the US, Australia (which is looking shaky) and China, will have a negative impact here.

‘Surprise card’ (really?) could help sell CGT

An obvious possible aim with Michael Cullen’s Capital Gains Tax proposals, especially the very high tax rate, was that the Government could adopt a watered down version and sell that as a good thing – this is an old political trick, lead with something terrible and then claim that a half as terrible policy was somehow great.

There are hints that this is indeed a deliberate approach taken, with a more moderate CGT being quietly circulated.

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Surprise card could help Labour sell a capital gains tax ‘light’

The Government has a trump card that could make a capital gains tax less unpopular and far harder for any future National government to reverse.

Tax Working Group chairman Sir Michael Cullen has proposed making a tax on capital gains “tax neutral” by handing back the $8.3 billion in revenue it is expected to generate over five years, mostly through income tax cuts and improved KiwiSaver incentives.

But a well-placed source believes the Government is likely to propose slashing the rate of a capital gains tax (CGT) and introducing significant exemptions to get the tax in place, while still offering all the major “carrots” and keeping the change tax-neutral.

That could be achieved simply by declaring that the CGT should be “tax neutral” over a longer period than five years, say 10 years.

A ‘well-placed source’ sounds suspiciously lie a leak strategy is being used.

The Government asked the Tax Working Group (TWG) to come up with tax packages that were tax neutral.

But Finance Minister Grant Robertson confirmed it was the working group that determined that should be over five years, with “no ministerial direction” on the timeframe.

Robertson would not rule out changing the time period, saying only that the Government was “carefully considering the report and all of its recommendations”.

The source suggested that if the Government did shift the goal posts set by the working group it could halve the maximum tax on capital gains from the currently proposed top income tax rate of 33 per cent, to 16 or 17 per cent.

It could also decide “not to touch KiwiSaver” by exempting KiwiSaver funds from paying tax on Australian and New Zealand shares, exclude more “lifestyle blocks” from a CGT, and introduce a threshold under which small business owners would not pay tax on their capital gains.

Together that would address the “four main concerns” with a CGT, including one “which is gaining traction” that it would be unfair to tax capital gains at 33 per cent while not adjusting them for inflation, the source said.

This makes it sound like Robertson may be the ‘well-placed source’. Which wouldn’t be surprising.

It also wouldn’t be surprising if Cullen and Robertson had either planned a strategy of proposing a heavy handed CGT and then switching to a CGT-lite from the start, or have sugested the lite version in response to the widespread negative reaction to the version proposed by the Tax Working Group.

Lengthening the period over which a CGT would be tax neutral could also make it less appealing for any future National government to quickly reverse the tax changes, since many of the benefits from the overall changes would then be more heavily “front loaded”, the source observed.

Chris Wales, a former leader of PwC’s global tax team who has advised prime ministers and finance ministers in several countries, including Britain’s Tony Blair, said the approach could be “wise, sensible and democratic”.

“At a simplistic level, people will, of course, be relieved that the potential breadth of a CGT has been reduced and that the rate is nowhere near the 33 per cent that the TWG has put forward,” Wales said, speaking from Kiev.

The Government could argue it had respected the outcome of the group’s deliberations but listened to the people as well, he said.

It sounds like ‘the people’ are being played here.

There’s not much of a surprise in that.

Cullen to be paid $1k a day for ongoing media work on tax recommendations

I think it’s unusual for the chairman of a Government working group to continue promoting recommendations and defending the Government’s position via media after delivery of their report. I hope it’s more unusual to be paid $1000 a day to do it.

Stuff: Sir Michael Cullen debates impact of tax reform on farmers, without the politics

Sir Michael Cullen has continued his public statements on the impact of capital gains tax, although his tone has softened considerably.

On Wednesday the Tax Working Group chairman released a lengthy statement on the impact the proposals of the Tax Working Group would have on farms.

It came two days after the former Labour MP and minister of finance questioned statements made by the National Party about the possible impact on KiwiSaver.

Cullen did not say why he issued the latest statement, instead claiming he had “responded to a request to comment on recent claims about the effect on farmers”.

This week it emerged that while the Tax Working Group has disbanded, Cullen has had his contract extended by the Government.

Cabinet papers show Cullen was to be paid $1062 a day in his role as chairman of the TWG.

“We extended his appointment as the chair of the TWG to 30 June because we were aware there would be extended public discussion on the report, and this has played out,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a statement.

That will be close to $100,000 over three months.  Where is Ardern’s so-called fairness in this?

If Ardern and Robertson aren’t capable of explaining and defending the working group recommendations then perhaps they should be paying Cullen out of their salaries.

Labour response to Tax Working Group final report

Jacinda Ardern not ‘ruling anything in or out’ after capital gains tax recommended by Working Group

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won’t commit to any tax reform despite the Tax Working Group report released today recommended a comprehensive capital gains tax.

It’s hardly comprehensive – it is more comprehensive than the current tax on property for developers and speculators, but the recommendations have some significant exclusions.

“We’re going to give the public a little bit of time, we’re going to take a little bit of time to form some consensus around the Government’s response,” she said.

“As you can see in the report there are some areas where everyone agrees, and there are some areas where the group did not, it’s our opportunity as government to go away, take a little bit of time, build some consensus and then come back to the public.”

“We are not ruling anything in or out at this stage.”

But Minister of Finance Grant Robertson and Minister of Revenue Stuart Nash have fronted for the Government  – here is their official response:


Government response to Tax Working Group report

The Coalition Government will take a measured response to the final report of the Tax Working Group (TWG), Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash said today.

“We welcome the release of the report and thank Sir Michael Cullen and the TWG for their hard work,” the Ministers say.

“The independent report finds that overall our tax system is clear and simple but there is room for improvement. There is some unfairness that we need to address. We will work through ways to do this to make the system fairer and more balanced,” says Mr Robertson.

“The overall findings confirm that there is no need for a major overhaul of the system,” says Mr Nash. “Our response will preserve the key principles of our existing broad-based low-rate tax system. In the words of the Prime Minister, we will not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

As the Working Group has said, the Government is not bound to accept all the recommendations it put forward. There are options to accept some, and/or to phase or sequence aspects of the packages proposed by the Group. Both Ministers said it was highly unlikely all recommendations will need to be implemented.

“We will seek technical advice on addressing the unfair and unbalanced elements identified by the TWG and make further announcements in April on any measures to enhance the fairness and integrity of the tax system,” Mr Nash said.

“Our aim is to ensure the system is fair for families and businesses and that it offers balance across the wider economy,” Mr Robertson says.

“We look forward to discussing the recommendations with our Coalition and Confidence and Supply partners as we work to find consensus on the best overall package. We will work to get the balance right,” he says.

“I am also happy to reaffirm the commitment made when the TWG was established that no changes arising from the report will be implemented this term. We also set out some clear bottom lines. In particular, the family home, increases to income tax and GST, and an inheritance tax are off limits and this remains the case,” says Mr Robertson.

Mr Nash also confirmed that tax reform initiatives separate to the work of the TWG will continue in the meantime. “We remain vigilant to ways the current tax system fails to address global economic and social forces which affect economic activity. These deficiencies are being acted on through our existing programme of reform.”

The Ministers noted that the Coalition Government has already moved to restore fairness and balance through a series of business-as-usual reforms:

  • Digital Economy. As announced earlier this week we are taking steps to ensure companies in the digital economy who do business across borders pay their fair share of tax. A discussion document on the options for a design of a digital services tax will be released in May, and we continue to work with other countries for a global solution;
  • Multinationals. The aggressive tax planning of some multinational companies who do business here has been tackled through the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) legislation which came into force in 2018;
  • Bright line test. The previous Government’s bright-line test that determines whether you pay tax on residential property investments sold within two years of purchase was extended by this Government to include those sold within five years;
  • Ring fenced losses. Losses on residential investment properties are to be ring-fenced, to remove the ability of property investors to pay less tax on other income;
  • Research and Development. We are encouraging innovation and investment by business with a package of R&D tax incentives that come into force from 1 April 2019;
  • GST on offshore suppliers. Domestic retailers will finally be on a level playing field with foreign companies who sell low value goods into NZ and don’t collect GST;
  • Double Tax Agreements. The ability to detect and prevent tax evasion involving taxpayers who operate in both NZ and offshore jurisdictions is enhanced by DTAs. We have updated the DTA with Hong Kong, a major financial centre in Asia. Updated DTAs with China, Korea and Fiji are also on the Government work programme;
  • Hidden economy and tax evasion. We increased the ability of IR to go after tax cheats, especially in the hidden economy, with more funding for compliance and enforcement;
  • IR Business Transformation. The BT programme of modernisation within IR makes it easier to eliminate punitive secondary tax for those who hold down more than one job, and to automate tax refunds each year;
  • Families Package. Measures in the Families Package targeted low and middle income families including changes to Working for Families;
  • Business Advisory Council and Small Business Council. The PM’s Business Advisory Council and the Small Business Council have been tasked to come up with a strategic approach to supporting business across central agencies.

Timeline:
Ministers expect to release the Government’s full response to the Report in April 2019 following detailed discussions with officials and consultation between Government parties.

As previously indicated, it is the Government’s intention to pass any legislation to implement any policy changes arising from the report before the end of the Parliamentary term. No policy measures would come into force until 1 April 2021 – giving New Zealanders the chance to vote on any decisions made by the Government.

 

 

Reserve Bank predictions about KiwiBuild – very slow, and crowding out private development

Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr has said that the Reserve Bank predicts a very slow start to the KiwiBuild programme – that’s hardly a prediction, it appears to be current reality – and also that due to lack of capacity much of the numbers eventually built may simply replace what private builders would have constructed.

RNZ: Reserve Bank predicts KiwiBuild will crowd out private building, progress slowly

The Reserve Bank has sounded a warning that the government’s KiwiBuild programme is likely to crowd out other private house building, because the construction industry simply doesn’t have enough capacity.

Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr told MPs on Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure committee this morning KiwiBuild would need time to fully pick up momentum.

“It will be a very slow start, which it has proved to be, we haven’t had to change our forecasts much over the last six months,” Mr Orr said.

The Reserve Bank report said the sector was struggling to find enough skilled and non-skilled labour to meet demand.

“Capacity constraints are restricting firms’ ability to meet that demand.

“The ability of the construction sector to build additional houses therefore depends on whether these constraints can be eased.”

That meant resources were limited, which could impact on private investment, Mr Orr.

“It would crowd out resources if you’re chasing for land building activity etc then you have compete to build KiwiBuild versus something else”.

According to the bank’s estimates that would mean for every 100 KiwiBuild homes built, 50 to 70 houses would not be built elsewhere, Mr Orr said.

This isn’t a new idea either.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the Reserve Bank’s estimates were just “one more projection” and that he was not “fussed all at” about them.

He agreed with the concerns about capacity constraints.

“We’ve inherited some real difficulties in the construction industry, it’s both a lack of workforce, firms that have trouble scaling up, low productivity, lack of access to land.”

Twyford and Labour should have known that before they made bold promises.

NZ Herald – KiwiBuild warning: Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr warns scheme ‘crowding out’ private sector

But Finance Minister Grant Robertson appeared to be at odds the central bank’s estimates and said Orr’s forecast was “certainly challengeable”.

Robertson did not seem to agree with Orr’s data when questioned this morning.

“Whether or not I accept that that is the level of crowding out is certainly challengeable, as we have had other advice.”

Robertson would not say what level of crowding out the Government was expecting; only that the Government’s goal was to add “significantly to the housing stock”.

The aim of KiwiBuild was to promote the building of affordable housing, the Finance Minister said.

I don’t think there is any sign so far that Kiwibuild is making housing more affordable.

The project has been trying to get promised numbers of houses built (dismally) but this focus doesn’t seem to have done much if anything to address the costs of building and the lack of available land (that also contributes to the cost of land).

“If we are starting to shift where some of the development is to more affordable, more affordable homes for first home buyers, that’s good.”

Note that he says ‘if’, not that that is what is actually happening.

The Government has a lot of work to do to prevent this from being both a big embarrassment and a costly failure.

“Government is stuck in a fiscal holding pattern”

Bernard Hickey thinks that the Government is “stuck in a fiscal holding pattern” this term due to their commitment to Budget Responsibility Rules, which committed them to get net debt down to 20 percent of GDP and keep the budget in surplus across the economic cycle.

This fiscal straightjacket has been criticised by those who want the Government to launch into significant (and expensive) tax, benefit and social reforms.

Hickey (Newsroom):  ‘Let’s do this’ in a holding pattern

Jacinda Ardern’s first big economic speech of the year warned of global economic headwinds, but it lacked action in response, or a major plan to improve wellbeing. Instead, it exposed how her Government is stuck in a fiscal holding pattern before the 2020 election, when it hopes it can throw off its debt target and capital gains tax shackles.

The breakfast speech to a polite audience of Auckland’s business elite at the Hilton Hotel on the waterfront showed the Prime Minister at the top of her game. She is a smooth operator with a knack for a self-deprecating quip or an aside that can win over even the most sceptical audience.

“Our starting point for the Wellbeing Budget is that while economic growth is important, it alone does not guarantee improvements to New Zealanders’ living standards,” she said, going on to make a strong case to address our obvious wellbeing problems.

“An everyday New Zealander – hearing of the “rock star economy” while their housing costs are skyrocketing, or they can’t afford to send their kids to school with a proper lunch or their mental health is strained – tends to have their faith in the system and in institutions undermined.”

She went on to detail the plans and the priorities for the first Wellbeing Budget in May, and suggested it would help New Zealand cope with economic headwinds from overseas.

“It will ensure that those closest to the margins are protected and that no one is left behind,” she said.

Really?

How can that be true when Kiwibuild is behind schedule and there are massive infrastructure deficits in housing, health, education and transport, which can only be addressed with tens of billions of extra public investment. New Zealand’s population is growing five times faster than the OECD average and Ardern acknowledged in her speech that governments had encouraged population growth without investing in infrastructure to deal with it.

That’s what National had been criticised for (with some justification).

I asked Ardern afterwards if the Government was planning to respond to the slowing economy and higher unemployment by loosening fiscal policy with extra operational or investment spending.

She stuck to the usual line that the Government would keep operating within its Budget Responsibility Rules.

Ardern and right-hand-man and now-Finance Minister Grant Robertson agreed with Green Leader James Shaw shortly after her election as Labour leader to essentially sign up to the same fiscal settings as National had up until earlier that year.

They imposed those rules on themselves to stick with a campaign promise, made to promote Labour as fiscally responsible to combat attempts by National to portray them as loose with money.

Ardern and Robertson are playing a longer game here, but that is frustrating those who want rapid and meaningful reforms.

The only exception to this rule is the need to spend up large to cope with either natural or man-made financial disasters such as the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes.

The irony is they need a new global financial crisis to give them the excuse to do what they need to do to make a real improvement in wellbeing.

So should the Government use its strong balance sheet to fix New Zealand’s massive infrastructure deficits? Yes should be the answer, but the timing should be now, not in two years time.

Unwilling to break its promise, it is now in a holding pattern and hopes voters keep the faith for long enough to give it a chance to throw off the shackles.

The Government has already committed to some extra spending – they boosted the Families Package, rushed in a tertiary education fees policy, and gave NZ First a $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund kitty. They will also end up with significant increases in teacher and nurse wage bills.

There are pressures to address what Labour had claimed was underfunding in health, but there seems to be no urgency there. They are now seem to be kicking the ‘mental health crisis’ down nine separate working group roads (see Mental health crisis -> 1 working group -> 9 working groups), and have stretched out their promised rebuild of the Dunedin Hospital (now due for completion in ten years).

Ardern has promised big in this year’s ‘wellbeing’ focussed budget, but has also promised small in debt targets, so Grant Robertson will have quite a balancing act to do.

Hickey sees this as a virtual holding pattern for the next two budgets, unless the world economy turns to custard and gives them an out clause.

 

National announces policy to address tax bracket creep

The last two governments and their finance ministers persistently refused to address tax bracket creep, which is seen as tax increases by stealth – as inflation increases incomes it pushes more income into higher tax brackets.

The incoming Labour led government actually did something, but that was negative – they scrapped catch up tax cuts put in place by National.

Today Simon Bridges announced that a future National government led by him would legislate to raise tax brackets in line with inflation every three years.

National would introduce rolling tax relief

A National Government would link income tax brackets to inflation, ensuring income taxes are adjusted every three years in line with the cost of living and allowing New Zealanders to keep more of what they earn, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

“New Zealanders’ incomes are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living because this Government is imposing more red tape and taxes,” Mr Bridges said in his State of the Nation speech in Christchurch today.

“Over the next four years, New Zealanders will be paying almost $10,000 more per household in tax than they would have been under National. The Government is taking more than it needs, only to waste billions on bad spending.

“On top of that, by 2022 New Zealanders on the average wage will move into the top tax bracket. That’s not right or fair. So in our first term National will fix that by indexing tax thresholds to inflation.

“We will amend the Income Tax Act so tax thresholds are adjusted every three years in line with the cost of living. That will mean that within a year after every election, Treasury will advise the Government on how much the thresholds should be adjusted for inflation.

“This would prevent New Zealanders from moving into higher tax brackets even when their income isn’t keeping up with the rising cost of living. It would ensure New Zealanders keep more of what they earn to stay on top of rising costs of living such as higher prices for necessities like petrol, rent and electricity.

“We will include a veto clause so the Government of the day can withhold the changes in the rare circumstances there is good reason to. But it will have to explain that decision to New Zealanders.

“The changes would make a real difference. Assuming inflation of 2 per cent, someone on the average wage would be $430 a year better off after the first adjustment, $900 after the second and $1,400 after the third.

“We will also do more on tax – but add no new taxes – and I’ll continue talking about our plans between now and next year’s election.

“National is committed to helping New Zealanders get ahead. This step means that as well as cancelling new taxes this Government has piled on, we won’t allow future governments to use inflation as an annual tax increase by stealth.”

In response Minister of Finance trotted out the overused and irrelevant ‘they didn’t do it in their nine years in office’.

But this is a smart move by National. Not only does it allow them to campaign on not raising taxes or allowing taxes to rise ‘by stealth’, they can compare this with what is predicted to be some sort of capital gains tax that will tax inflation affected increases in value of assets.

Of course Labour can come up with a competing policy, but that could be some time away as they ponder the Tax Working Group recommendations.

This looks a bit corny though:

 

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