How much tax do we pay?

The average wage earning or small business person pays quite a lot of tax.

Damien Grant at Stuff: The National Government a Labour PM would be proud to lead

In my small business, for every dollar that comes in almost half of it goes out in tax: GST, PAYE, FBT, ACC and in the event there is anything left over, income tax comes clobbers a third.

So, I was pleased to see John Key elected. National has a set of principles. These include limited government and personal responsibility. They have had nine years to implement their principles. How have they done?

When Bill English became minister of finance government spending was $60 billion. It is now $80b. Sovereign debt was a mere $10b when National took office. It is now $60b. In nine years of relatively unfettered power, National has failed to roll back a single penny of the welfare state, failed to confront the disaster of the Resource Management Act, unwind restrictive building regulations or do anything consistent with their stated principles.

This is a centre-left government Norman Kirk would have been proud to lead.

So how much tax do we actually pay? PAYE has different rates of tax at different thresholds, plus there is ACC Earner Levy. And we get taxed on interest earned or gains in investments – including on our Kiwisaver. And on top of that we get taxed on all the goods and services we pay for.

PAYE has different rates of tax.

  • Income up to $14000, taxed at 10.5%
  • Income over $14000 and up to $48000, taxed at 17.5%
  • Income over $48000 and up to $70000, taxed at 30%
  • Remaining income over $70000, taxed at 33%

Plus the current ACC Earner levy is 1.39% on top of that, up to earnings of $126,286.

Payroll tax:

TaxIncome

Payroll tax plus GST on quarter of income:

TaxIncomeQuarterGST

Payroll tax plus GST on half income:

TaxIncomeGSTHalf

Payroll tax plus GST on all income:

TaxIncomeGSTAll

 

Cash jobs = tax evasion

Inland Revenue are having another crack at discouraging cash jobs. Avoiding paying GST and income tax is blatant tax evasion, but there has been a general acceptance of it as fair game by many.

It’s not fair on businesses who do things by the book and can’t compete on price. And it’s not fair on those who ‘pay their fair share’.

One News has done a bit of investigating and reports Growing blackmarket in renovations sparks IRD crackdown on tradies doing cashies

A ONE News investigation has revealed a thriving blackmarket in the renovation trade, which is expanding in scale.

They haven’t revealed it, it is well known that it goes on, but they are helping highlight the problem.

We took one Auckland house badly in need of repair and we asked six tradesmen, chosen at random, to quote us for fitting a new bathroom and kitchen, re-painting and installing new carpet.

The work would be valued at between $10,000 and $20,000 depending on the scope of the work quoted by each tradesman.

Fifty per cent of tradesmen provided a cash price, without being asked – and their quotes ranged in value from $10,000 to $18,000.

Apart from cheating the system – and cheating those of us who pay all our income tax via PAYE and pay GST via our purchases – I think it’s very risky paying that amount of tax for that size of job. People who offer cash jobs are more likely to be shady and you are less likely to be protected if something goes wrong.

So who is breaking the law when a cash price is negotiated?

Andrew Stott from Inland Revenue says it’s “the tradesperson breaking the law – the tradesperson is responsible for paying taxes on their income,” while for the consumer “it’s not illegal to pay cash – it’s just silly”.

It’s more than silly. If you pay cash for goods or services knowing that tax evasion is likely then you are aiding and abetting it.

The Inland Revenue is today launching a crackdown on tradies doing cashies, their third campaign in Auckland and Christchurch.

Mr Stott’s advice to anyone doing work for cash and not paying tax is simple.

“Watch out. The holes you can hide this sort of money in are becoming smaller and smaller and we are constantly finding people.  A second piece of advice is just think about your part in New Zealand and your part in your industry, and play your part.”

If GST evasion was eliminated then for the same level of tax take the GST rate could be reduced.

From a few years ago: Cash jobs, crime drive black economy

Cash trade jobs, crimes, wages under the table and online trading are costing the Government more than $7 billion a year in lost tax.

That’s unpaid tax that us tax payers have to subsidise, about 10% of tax revenue.

How much do we pay? If we are on about an average income of $60,000:

taxpaid60000

You can check this for different incomes at My Tax Dollars.

That’s just income tax, add GST and it will be closer to $15,000 in tax per year for an average earner (that doesn’t get Working for Families accommodation subsidies).

Those who evade GST and income tax mean the average income earner pays perhaps 10% more than their fair share, or around $15,000 per year, or about $30 per week, because of dishonest people.

If tax evasion was reduced, and honest tax rates were reduced, there would be less need for WFF type subsidies.

Cash jobs = tax evasion

It costs a honest people a significant amount amount of money.

More poor NZ First maths

Some very questionable NZ First spokesperson maths were highlighted recently – see Predator Free would cost ‘trillions’.

In Question Time in Parliament yesterday NZ First deputy leader Ron Mark also indicated he may be challenged by numbers.

2. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Ron Mark: Does he stand by his statement that “every region of New Zealand is crucial to our growth and progress”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, in the context I made it.

Ron Mark: Why has the Government, then, given only $12 million over 4 years to councils for tourism infrastructure such as public toilets, when the Government took $630 million net surplus from GST on international visitor spending?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member is wrong; the number is higher than that for GST. The Government has been investing very heavily in the tourism sector. It is one of the reasons why it is such an important part of the economy, and we saw 3.3 million international tourists come to New Zealand. What the Government is doing is—for the first time—providing that sort of support for councils. They are free to put in an application, and, I think, from the feedback that I have been getting both as Prime Minister and as Minister of Tourism, a lot of them are going to do that and be grateful. But to argue that that is the only thing that we are doing in terms of supporting tourists is a bit farcical. It includes the $140 million – odd every year we put into marketing. It includes the work we have done around black spots for mobile phones, ultra-fast broadband, and tourist facilities.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically quoted the figure $12 million over 4 years to councils in respect of tourism infrastructure—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I have the point of order, please.

Ron Mark: My question is that he has not answered—I ask you to ask the Prime Minister to answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, there is absolutely no doubt that the answer addressed the question that was asked.

First, on the claim of “$630 million net surplus from GST on international visitor spending“. As Key suggests, the value of GST on visitor spending is higher than that.

The latest numbers from MBIE show that in the year to June 2016 visitor spending was $10,276 million. Presuming that is GST inclusive the GST portion of that is over twice the $630 million Mark claimed – $1,340 million. That’s an increase from $1,139 million in the year to June 2015, which is still nearly double Mark’s claim.

But Mark didn’t specify what period his GST number applied to, but tried to compare it to four years of expenditure. GST on visitor spending over the next four years is on track to be well in excess of $5 billion, which is quite different to $630 million.

Kudos to Key for recognising this discrepancy on the fly. A fail mark for Mark on visitor GST.

The second point Key made is on the claim that “given only $12 million over 4 years to councils for tourism infrastructure such as public toilets“.

Mark has mentioned expenditure on only one small tourism policy. Key mentions other areas of spending on tourism.

This MBIE page details these spending announcements from this year’s budget.

  • A new Regional Mid-sized Tourism Facilities Fund of $12 million over four years will be established for smaller scale infrastructure projects that deliver tourism-related facilities(that’s what Mark referred to).
  • Budget 2016 also contributes an extra $8 million over four years for Tourism New Zealand to target key growth markets so New Zealand continues to diversify our visitor base.
  • There will be new funding of $25 million over four years that will enable the, enhancement and extension of Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

This is just additional spending – clearly headlined as a ‘further boost’

Key was a bit off with his estimate of the “$140 million – odd every year we put into marketing”.  From Tourism New Zealand’s 3 year marketing strategy document:

Tourism New Zealand’s budget will increase $29.5m, from $83.8m to $113.4m, for the financial years FY14 and FY15, increasing to $115.8m in FY16 and FY17, enabling significant expansion on Tourism New Zealand’s current activity.

But he was in the vicinity (off the top of his head), and again this is just a part of what the Government contributes to tourism.

Another thing – it would be ridiculous to use all of the GST gathered from visitors’ spending on tourism.

We don’t reinvest all of the GST on other sectors back into those sectors. If that was how things were done there would be little money for New Zealand First to employ researchers (via Parliamentary Services) – but perhaps they don’t use researchers now.

If NZ First want to gain some credibility as being able to hold a crucial role in the next Government then they need to stop making claims that are easily ridiculed.

“Inequality is a choice”

Anthony Robins writes at The Standard that Inequality is a choice.

Inequality is a choice. It isn’t a choice made by individuals, it is a choice made by governments.

‘Inequality’ far more complex than that. For a start it depends on how you define inequality.

I choose to make working for a living more of a priority than some, and I choose to put other priorities ahead of accumulating possessions and monetary wealth.

Having kids is costly on money terms but my children and step children and grand children are worth far more to me than a better bank balance.

There is no way a Government can impose and enforce equality. There will always be arguments over what is equal and what is not.

Even the Chinese Government has given up on trying to force equality of single child families, and they could never force women to have that one child anyway.

Robins doesn’t help his argument when he chooses to misrepresent facts.

The last Labour government chose to implement a higher top tax rate and Working For Families, these policies (though arguably too little too late) did reduce inequality. The current National government chose to cut the top tax rate, attack labour laws, and increase GST, these policies are increasing inequality.

Yes the current National Government chose to cut the top tax rate. And Robins chose to omit other pertinent facts, like the Government also cutting other tax rates and increasing benefits to compensate for the increase in GST.

This dishonesty is common from the left.

For facts see Budget 2010: Tax reductions in detail which includes:

Key tax changes
All personal income tax rates will be cut from October 1, 2010.
Income up to $14,000 will be taxed at 10.5%, down from 12.5%.
Income from $14,001 to $48,000 drops to 17.5% from 21%
Income from $48,001-$70,000 down to 30% from 33%
Income over $70,000 will be cut to 33% from 38%.

GST
GST will increase from 12.5% to 15%. Income support and other payments will rise by 2.02% to compensate for the increase. This includes student allowances and supplementary benefits, superannauation, veterans pension and the Working for Families tax credit.

Company tax
The company tax rate will fall from 30% to 28% from the 2011/12 income year.

The sting
While higher income earners will benefit from the government slashing the top tax rate, there is a sting in the tail of the budget that will hit wealthy in the hip pocket beyond just an increase in GST, which is widely considered to adversely affect the less wealthy the most.

Building depreciation tax deductions will no longer be allowed from next year, providing the building has a useful life of 50 years or more. This would include most rental houses and offices.

Robins also doesn’t discuss what effect these tax changes had on employment and the economy that were severely stressed by the Global Financial Crisis.

Honesty is a choice.

There are some choices related to inequalities, both personal and by Government. And there are many aspects of inequality that none of us can do much if anything about.

Inequality is a vague ideal that as far as I’m aware has never be achieved. Perhaps Robins or someone else can point to examples of sustainable equality in any human society.

I think that equality is the wrong goal.

Cunliffe versus truth

From David Cunliffe Speech to 2013 Labour Party Conference – Building a future for all:

One for the rich and powerful, who don’t pay their fair share of tax because they have smart accountants to ensure they avoid it.

Families who pay tax on every dollar they earn, pick up the slack for the mega-rich and the foreign corporations who don’t.

Five years ago, John Key told New Zealanders, “wave goodbye to higher taxes, not your loved ones’’.

But he only meant it for the privileged few.

He gave massive tax cuts to the rich that they did not need while he put up GST on everyone.

Cunliffe is supposed to be intelligent and financially literate – if so this means he is telling deliberate distortions and lies.

The tax cuts “to the rich” were not massive. Damien Grant writes in NZ Herald:  Poverty isn’t fault of rich

Key to the inequality fantasy is that New Zealand is a neo-liberal rich-man’s paradise but the facts do not support this.

Bill English said the top 12 per cent of households, those earning over $150,000, pay over three-quarters of all tax. To balance this, half of all households take home less than $60,000 and pay $2.7 billion in tax; yet they receive $8.1 billion in transfer payments. Half the population are net beneficiaries.

The tax increases were partly balanced by the increase in GST which costs them more as the biggest spenders.

And GST increases were balanced for lower income earners with income tax cuts, and beneficiaries had compensating benefit increases.

Cunliffe is speaking to an audience which is receptive to his dishonesty. Time will tell whether enough voters buy his bull.

Cunliffe on GST on foreign purchases

How low would David Cunliffe propose dropping the current $400 no-GST threshold for foreign purchases? The implication is very low, book price low, although it’s not clear whether it would go as low as David Farrar is suggesting – ebook and iTune low, which would be a dollar or two low.

I have obtained a recording of what David Cunliffe said about the GST threshold on foreign purchases – his explanation of his comments and David Farrar’s interpretation have been different.

Tom Pullar-Strecker reported in Retailers in GST counter-attack (Dominion Post) about comments made at a seminar at Victoria University last Wednesday:

Labour revenue spokesman David Cunliffe said a low threshold for charging GST on overseas purchases would stop the Government “subsidising foreign commerce” and was a “no-brainer”.

David Farrar picked up on this at Kiwiblog in a post Retailers need to stop trying to tax us online

Oh wonderful. Make sure everyone knows this. Labour Party policy is to tax your online purchases more. Buy a book from Amazon, and Labour will hold it up at the border until you pay the Government an extra 15% of the price.

Will Labour also block itunes? We can’t have people downloading music and not paying GST on it. So to implement their policy they’ll have to block itunes in NZ, and only allow people to purchase from a NZ located online retailer.

Labour grandstanded on the carpark tax (yet never had a clear policy on it), but have now trumped that with their e-tax. I look forward to detailed Labour policy on what they would reduce the threshold to so we know how many of our online purchases they plan to stop at the border.

I tweeted David Cunliffe asking “what sort of lower GST threshold do you suggest for overseas purchases?” – he responded:

@DavidCunliffeMP

TP-S writes up a question as a statement and DPF goes ape… Calm down folks there is more work to be done on that question.

In another post at Kiwiblog, Labour’s iTax, David Farrar further implied that Labour would apply GST to small foreign purchases like ebooks and itunes. That would have to cover purchases of just a dollar or two, implying an extremely low or no threshold.

I was interested to find out how much Farrar could be exaggerating, or Cunliffe could be fudging his intent.

I have obtained a recording of Cunliffe’s comments, it’s a poor quality recording but key phrases can be heard clearly enough:

Just following up on John’s question, given that we’re talking about a a smaller picture here, which is the GST collection…

…is this not a no brainer, why don’t we have a single point low threshold, and as John said, stop subsidising foreign commerce…

…surely it’s a no brainer, why hasn’t it been done before?

Cunliffe is correct, he does ask a question – but in twice also saying “a no brainer” there is a clear implication that Cunliffe favours a lower threshold.

How low? He has avoided answering that. But the research being presented at the seminar was sponsored by Booksellers NZ. This implies a much lower threshold than the current $400.

‘The Rise in Foreign Retailing and New Zealand’s GST Exemption: Time for a Change?

Speaker: Summer Scholarship Research Assistant William Steel, with an introduction by Lincoln Gould, CEO of Booksellers NZ (sponsors of this research project).

Abstract:

This presentation will report on results from a recent project evaluating the economic and revenue costs of this distortion. It will argue that, by diverting domestic spending offshore, the government not only misses out on GST revenue, but also loses out on some company and PAYE tax revenue and is distorting consumer choices. But there are significant collection cost issues when trying to levy GST on low value purchases from foreign retailers. We discuss of a number of options to collect such GST revenue if New Zealand’s foreign GST-free threshold was reduced, and outline how a cost-benefit analysis could be made.

In the past two decades the New Zealand retail market has undergone a rapid transformation. What was traditionally bought in stores is now increasingly being bought online. As a result many goods purchased from foreign websites, valued at up to $400 each, legitimately avoid paying 15% GST. Such an exemption creates a distortion that favours overseas retailers over their New Zealand based competitors

Obviously there is no Labour policy on this at this stage, Farrar is over-egging that aspect.

But Cunliffe seems to clearly favour a much lower “single point low threshold“. As opposition spokesperson on Revenue it is his job to investigate and consider changes like this.

It’s difficult to know whether Cunliffe was poli-pandering to an audience or if he would seriously consider a change to a very low (or no) GST threshold.

Cunliffe recently criticised the proposed car-park tax, in part because of the compliance cost, some claims where that it would exceed the tax take. There are major issues of compliance costs for small online purchases being delivered by opost, or delivered over the Internet.

It will be interesting to see the specifics of Labour policy on this – should they decide on a clear policy.

Reference article and links to research:

Booksellers NZ – International e-commerce: the downsides for NZ retail and tax revenue

A Proposed Pathway towards future reform of New Zealands de minimis threshold (opens to PDF)

E-Commerce and its effect upon the Retail Industry and Government Revenue

Labour on GST on overseas purchases

Retailers are lobbying the Government to address competiton between local sales and buying from overseas by changing the GST rules on overseas purchases, as reported on Stuff in Retailers in GST counter-attack

Retailers are stepping up efforts to close a “loophole” that allows GST-free purchases of overseas goods costing less than $400.

The Booksellers Association yesterday released research commissioned from a Victoria University “think-tank” which suggested slashing or abolishing the threshold altogether, and that overseas retailers could be given the choice of collecting the tax on behalf of Customs.

Association chief executive Lincoln Gould said the failure to impose GST on personal imports represented “a serious and growing hurdle” for local booksellers and other retailers.

David Farrar at Kiwiblog argued against this in Retailers need to stop trying to tax us online. He also picked up on a comment about Labour:

Labour revenue spokesman David Cunliffe said a low threshold for charging GST on overseas purchases would stop the Government “subsidising foreign commerce” and was a “no-brainer”.

Farrar commented:

Oh wonderful. Make sure everyone knows this. Labour Party policy is to tax your online purchases more. Buy a book from Amazon, and Labour will hold it up at the border until you pay the Government an extra 15% of the price.

Will Labour also block itunes? We can’t have people downloading music and not paying GST on it. So to implement their policy they’ll have to block itunes in NZ, and only allow people to purchase from a NZ located online retailer.

Labour grandstanded on the carpark tax (yet never had a clear policy on it), but have now trumped that with their e-tax. I look forward to detailed Labour policy on what they would reduce the threshold to so we know how many of our online purchases they plan to stop at the border.

This appears to be based on an inaccurate report. Cunliffe on Twitter:

‏@DavidCunliffeMP

TP-S writes up a question as a statement and DPF goes ape… Calm down folks there is more work to be done on that question.

(TP-S is Tom Pullar-Strecker, the journalist who wrote the article.)

That was in response to a direct question “what sort of lower GST threshold do you suggest for overseas purchases?”

It certainly doesn’t sound like a Labour party position any more than “presented the research to ministers, including Finance Minister Bill English and Revenue Minister Peter Dunne, and had been promised they would seek advice from officials” is a Government position on changing the threshold.

Cunliffe only took on the Revenue spokesperson role for Labour since the recent reshuffle.

He is well aware of how compliance costs can kill tax tweaks, he was vocal in the recent carpark Fringe Benefit Tax debate. New spokespeople seem to have a free rein to oppose Government consultations but could be forgiven for taking a bit longer to propose alternatives.

More, lower taxes?

The biggest problems with taxes:

  • rate too high
  • too many rates
  • too many  exemptions
  • too complex

More tax types
I think we need a range of taxes, if you narrow it to too few it allows to much advantage to some and disadvantage to others.

Keep it simple
Simple, universal, minimal or no exemptions. Flat rates.

Keep it Low
The lower each tax rate, the less likely people will try and avoid that tax.

GST, PAYE, CGT,  company tax, land tax and transaction tax, fuel tax, and alcohol and tobacco excise tax – reach as wide as possible, as low as possible (except for tobacco and maybe alcohol), and as low administration as possible.

I’m just plucking numbers out of the air, but starting with GST as it is here’s a stab:

  • GST 15% on everything
  • PAYE first 15k tax free, 15% thereafter
  • Company tax 15% on everything
  • CGT 15% on everything
  • Land tax 1% per year on everything perhaps with a tax free threshold
  • Transaction tax 0.1% on everything
  • Fuel tax to cover wider costs
  • Alcohol, tobacco and gambling at levels to discourage overuse

They would need balancing and adjusting to ensure sufficient revenue.

In addition the whole benefit system should be simplified, and a priority should be put on controlling government spending and encouraging business development, employment and productivity.


Simple, comprehensive, low.

Labour’s tax changes wouldn’t affect me – or would they?

I’d initially thought the Labour proposals wouldn’t affect me much. I don’t have investment  property. But then I started thinking.

PAYE

I don’t earn $150k so presumably I’ll benefit from the first $5k not being taxed. I don’t actually need another tax cut! The household I’m in has a comfortable income. I think I pay a fair share of tax now, especially considering the current economic situation.

Shares

I have some shares so presumably would need to value them on  “valuation day”, and pay CGT on any gain from then. That is unfair for me, I’ve invested in a  Dunedin company, Blis, that has lost value as it tries to establish international markets. So if on v-day it’s still valued low and then gets rewards for it’s investment in technology patenting and market development I’ll be penalised.

GST

I don’t think GST off fruit and veges will affect my grocery bills much, produce tends to be priced for market and seasonal reasons and is often rounded. How long have bananas been selling at $2.99? Will that change?

But – I work in software with many businesses. Changing from 12.5% to 15% last year wasn’t as simple as changing a number in the software. It cost the company I work for to provide transition help, and it cost companies I support in time and hassle. That was for a minor simple change.

Selective GST rates adds complexity and administration time and costs.

“Farms” or lifestyle blocks

I own 2.5 hectares, a so called lifestyle block. I’ve planted fruit trees and berries and trees for firewood to be more self sufficient. I have two hens and ten sheep. Most of the land is rated as rural.

Will this mean I’ll be liable for CGT if I sell it? Will I have to value the house and the “farm” land separately on v-day?

Expert Group

Maybe I’ll have to ask the expert group that Labour would set up. I hope they’re more expert than the people who thought up all this jumble of extra tax complexity.

What if the expert group tells Labour they need to change PAYE rates thresholds to cover shortfalls?
What if the expert group tells Labour they need to drop the myriad of exemptions and include my family home in CGT?

I won’t know what the end effect will be on me unless Labour win the election – and it’s coalition agreements allow it go ahead with this – and their final plan is decided on.

I want simplicity and certainty in tax. I wouldn’t mind a simple clear comprehensive CGT.

But I’m worried about the Labour tax package. Too selective, too complex and too uncertain.