Better taxes

February 23, 2019

Better taxes are simple taxes.

The Tax Working Group’s capital gains tax proposal is complicated with all the costs and opportunities for avoidance that go with complications.

Better taxes encourage what we need more of.

The TGW’s CTG proposal would tax savings and investment.

Better taxes discourage what we want less of.

The TGW’s CTG exempts the family home which would encourage even greater investment in housing.

Better taxes reward hard work, thrift and delayed gratification.

The TGW’s CTG would tax businesses and exempt art, cars and yachts.

The TGW’s CTG is a bad tax.

 


Sowell says

February 22, 2019


More than a CGT

February 22, 2019

The proposed capital gains tax (CGT) has got most of the attention, but worryingly there’s more, including the proposal of a water tax that would affect everyone:

IrrigationNZ says a proposed nationwide water tax would affect all Kiwis, and there needs to be more discussion about how this would impact households, farmers and businesses.

“The Tax Working Party has recommended the government consider introducing a water tax on all types of water use including hydro-generation, household use and commercial water use,” says Nicky Hyslop, IrrigationNZ Chair.

“This would result in higher power and food prices for households and businesses and higher rates bills to pay for the irrigation of parks and reserves as well as direct water tax on household and business water use.”

An increase in the cost of production inevitably leads to an increase in the cost of what’s produced.

The working party is proposing that the water tax could be used to fund the restoration of waterways.

“While we all want to see cleaner rivers, often the solutions to improving rivers require people to change their existing practices both on farm and to prevent urban wastewater discharges into rivers. Just allocating money will not be the most effective solution,” says Mrs Hyslop.

This was proposed before the last election and was rightly criticised for taxing the good to clean up after the bad.

“We need to think about whether a water tax is equitable as water use varies hugely across regions based on rainfall. For example a Christchurch resident uses an average of 146,700 litres of water per year, while the average for a New Zealander is 82,800. Someone living in Christchurch would pay nearly twice as much in a water tax as someone living elsewhere and would also pay more in rates because in a dryer climate the Council will use more water to irrigate their local parks. Is taxing dryer regions such as Canterbury, Otago, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough more heavily with a water tax a fair way to fund river restoration nationwide?”

Mrs Hyslop says there are similar equity issues for farmers and growers.

“Some regions receive a significant amount of rainfall and farmers don’t need to use irrigation. Central Otago receives less than half the rainfall of Auckland, so farmers and growers rely on irrigation to grow stonefruit, wine and for pastoral farming to provide feed for animals. Only 7% of farmers use irrigation nationwide – why are those farmers being targeted to pay a tax which 93% of farmers won’t pay when there are many regions which have very poor waterways but little use of irrigation?”

Generally waterways with more irrigation are cleaner than those with less or none.

Mrs Hyslop says that a water tax on hydro-electric power generation would also add to power bills for households and businesses and this tax doesn’t make sense at a time when the government wants to encourage the use of renewable energy to meet climate change targets.

The poor already struggle to pay their power bills, why make it worse for no environmental gain?

“Currently a number of regions are suffering from very dry conditions and we need to be developing more water storage as climate change is predicted to bring more frequent droughts in the future,” she adds.

“We disagree with the suggestion in the report that introducing a water tax will encourage greater investment in water storage. If you look at the most recently approved water storage project – the Waimea Dam – a price increase for the dam construction nearly resulted in it not being built. Introducing a new tax on water use will add to be long-term costs of this and similar projects and make them less viable and less likely to be built. We really need more investment in these projects to ensure we have enough water to supply our growing population and get through more frequent future droughts.”

“We also have concerns that farmers and growers in many regions may face significant water tax costs in excess of $10,000 a year which will make it more difficult to fund the environmental improvements we all want to see to improve waterways,” she says.

“The report discusses how a water tax will encourage more efficient water use. There are already a number of existing incentives that encourage efficient water use including electricity costs and regulatory nutrient limit rules which require farmers to only use water when needed. The biggest improvements in water use efficiency come from modernising irrigation systems.Farmers and irrigation schemes have already invested $1.7 billion to modernise their systems since 2011, resulting in significant improvements in water efficiency. Introducing a major new tax will reduce farmers ability to replace an older irrigation system with a more water efficient model.” 

The capital gains and water taxes aren’t the only monsters unleashed by the TWG .

The Tax Working Group has gone much further than a Capital Gains Tax with a raft of new taxes targeting hard-working New Zealanders, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

There are eight new taxes including; an agriculture tax, a tax on empty residential land, a water tax, a fertiliser tax, an environmental footprint tax, a natural capital enhancement tax, a waste levy and a Capital Gains Tax.

“This is an attack on the Kiwi way of life. This would hit every New Zealander with a Kiwi Saver, shares, investment property, a small business, a lifestyle block, a bach or even an empty section,” Mr Bridges says.

“For farmers, who are the backbone of our economy, this is a declaration of war on their businesses and way of life. They would pay to water their stock, feed their crops and even when they sell up for retirement.

“Labour claims this is about fairness, but that’s rubbish. The CGT would apply to small business owners like the local plumber, but not to investors with a multi-million dollar art collection or a super yacht who won’t pay a cent more.

“The TWG has recommended one of the highest rates of Capital Gains Tax in the world. The Government would reap $8.3 billion extra in its first five years from ordinary Kiwis – small business owners, farmers, investors, bach and lifestyle block owners. After 10 years it would be taking $6 billion a year from Kiwis.

“It will lead to boom times for tax lawyers and accountants and even Iwi advisers, given recommendations for exclusions that include Māori land in multiple ownership.

“We believe New Zealanders already pay enough tax and the Government should be looking at tax relief, not taking even more out of the pockets of New Zealand families.

“National says no to new taxes. We would repeal a Capital Gains Tax, index tax thresholds to the cost of living and let Kiwis keep more of what they earn.”

The government keeps trying to counter the accusation it’s not a good economic manager.

Introducing new and higher taxes is not the way to do it.

It should be aiming for higher quality spending not more spending and reducing the burden of tax to allow us all to keep more of our own money.

 


CGT would hit middle hardest

February 22, 2019

It there’s such a thing as a fair tax, it’s not one based on misplaced envy as the Tax Working Group’s capital gains tax appears to be.

No photo description available.
Fairness is desirable but not at any cost and  it’s best achieved by helping the poor up not pulling the better-off down, especially when those who will be hit hardest are those with modest investments, not the really wealthy, and worse still, they’d be hit by one of the most penal CGTs in the world:

The Tax Working Group’s report released today proposes a broad-based top rate of 33% capital gains tax (CGT).

The New Zealand Initiative argues in a new policy note, The Pitfalls of CGT, that headline rate would immediately push New Zealand to the top of the international CGT rankings among industrialised economies, just behind Denmark and Finland.

“The proposal is conspicuous by a lack of exemptions and concessions around business investment, so a full rate would arguably qualify New Zealand’s CGT regime as one of the harshest in the world,” said Dr Patrick Carvalho, Research Fellow and author of the note.

“Worse, given New Zealand’s recognisably low-income tax thresholds by international standards, a new CGT would disproportionately hit middle-income earners already struggling to invest for retirement.”

“New Zealand should be cautious about siren calls for a top-ranking CGT. Trying to punch above our weight can sometimes place us in the wrong fight category,” concludes Dr Carvalho.

A good tax would foster investment that would help businesses grow, produce more and employ more.

A good tax would encourage and reward thrift and delayed gratification.

A good tax would improve productivity and promote growth.

The CTG as proposed would do the opposite.

New Zealand needs foreign investment because we don’t have enough of our own capital. The CGT would aggravate that by making investing overseas more attractive than investing domestically:

The Tax Working Group (TWG) proposals released this morning would skew New Zealand investors away from local assets, distort the KiwiSaver market and mangle the portfolio investment entity (PIE) regime if introduced, according to the founder of the country’s largest direct-to-consumer managed fund platform.

Anthony Edmonds, InvestNow founder, said while the TWG final report includes some welcome reforms, overall the capital gains tax (CGT) recommendations would add cost, complexity and confusion to New Zealand’s relatively efficient managed funds market.

“For example, the TWG’s plan to increase tax on New Zealand shares by applying CGT while leaving the fair dividend rate (FDR) tax for offshore shares unchanged would naturally drag capital offshore at the expense of local assets – at a time when New Zealand needs to fund major infrastructure projects,” Edmonds said. “In trying to discourage people from investing in residential property, the TWG has created a tax disincentive for Kiwi shares, which can only distort investment allocation decisions.”

Essentially, the TWG recommendation to tax unrealised capital gains on PIE funds marks a return to the ‘bad old days’ when Kiwis paid more tax on managed funds than direct share investments. . .

Concern over the housing shortage is one of the motivating factors for a CGT but It won’t improve home affordability in the long term:

Bindi Norwell, Chief Executive at REINZ says: “In the short-term there may be some initial relief in house price affordability as investors look to sell their property to avoid paying CGT. This may create opportunities for first home buyers.

“However, in the long term it’s likely to push house prices up as people look to invest more money in the family home, as there will be less incentive to invest in rental properties or other forms of investment e.g. equities.

“This will also have a flow on effect for the rental market with fewer rental properties available for tenants, thereby further pushing up weekly rental prices when they are already at an all-time high.

“The report even recognises that any impact on housing affordability could be small, therefore, we question whether all of the administrative burden and cost to implement GCT is worth it? Especially as CGT coming at the end of a raft of legislative changes the housing market has faced recently including the foreign buyer ban, ban on letting fees, insulation, healthy homes and ring fencing. . .

A tax that results in fewer and more costly rentals and more expensive homes is not a good one.

Nor is a tax that is fatally flawed:

Today’s Tax Working Group report recommendation for a new capital gains tax will not address residential housing affordability but it will penalise business owners and create costly complexity in our tax system, meaning it is fatally flawed, according to Business Central.

“New Zealand’s tax system is envied worldwide. The proposed capital gains tax increases compliance costs without boosting productivity,” says Business Central Chief Executive John Milford.

“Business Central agrees with the conclusions of the minority view on the Tax Working Group.

“A capital gains tax is just another cost on business, nothing more. . .

It would hit small and medium businesses hardest:

Key areas of the Tax Working Group Final Report released today were disappointing, says Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Leeann Watson. . . 

Ms Watson says the proposed capital gains rules should not be implemented because of the significant impact on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“We support the Government’s review to ensure that our tax system is fit for purpose for a changing business environment. However, there is very real concern that taxing both shares and business assets under a comprehensive capital gains tax regime would create double taxation.

“This could disadvantage New Zealanders owning shares in New Zealand and create inconsistencies around overall taxation on investment.”

Ms Watson says a capital gains tax would be unlikely to achieve the desired outcome for business.

“There is concern around the effect for capital markets in a capital constrained economy with a long-term savings deficit. Adding further tax on the savings and investment of those New Zealanders in the middle-income bracket won’t drive the deepening and broadening of the capital base that we need for business investment, which is higher productivity and wages.

“While the impetus behind the changes are aspirational, there is little to indicate they would significantly reduce overinvestment in housing or increase ‘tax fairness’. In addition, there is concern that additional administration costs and investment distortions could outweigh any benefits and potentially discourage much-needed investment and innovation by locking businesses into current asset holdings.

“It is vitally important that we remain competitive as a country and are not continuing to add further compliance for business and in particular small business, who represent 97% of all businesses in our economy.”

Ms Watson says there needs to be a viable business case for any changes to the current tax system.

“There seems to be a real focus on ‘fairness’ in the system design, as opposed to revenue-building, so we need to be careful that any tax changes are for the right reasons and are backed by a clear, practical and sustainable business case. We currently have a fairly simple and efficient tax system that should be kept and better enforced, with changes to specific rules where needed.” . . 

The costs of a good tax would not outweigh the benefits:

The Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) says the key issue in the Tax Working Group’s proposal released today is that the cost of its capital gains tax rules will outweigh any benefits.

Chief executive Brett O’Riley says any gains from such a broad-based capital gains tax would be eaten up by administration and other costs, leaving little revenue.

“Fundamentally the proposed capital gains rules don’t address the Tax Working Group’s objectives of reducing over-investment in housing and increasing tax fairness,” he says.

Mr O’Riley is also concerned that capital gains tax on business assets could discourage investment and innovation, locking businesses into their current asset holdings. He says there are other policy settings that could be changed to increase investment in different asset classes, away from property.

“I also fail to see how taxing growth on the value of assets from the proposed commencement date of 1 April 2021 would work, because it would be open to conflicting valuations,” he says. “It could also act as a further disincentive to growth when New Zealand already has issues with business not growing from SME’s into larger scale operations and a CGT may also limit the availability of capital to reinvest in businesses as smaller businesses face an additional tax bill.

“It’s difficult to see any benefits for the business community from implementing the proposed capital gains tax rules, as taxing both shares and business assets appears to be double taxation,” says Mr O’Riley.

It is relevant to note that a number of the Tax Working Group do not favour its recommendations on capital gains tax. The minority view summary is available here

One reason for dissension was compliance costs:

Former IRD Deputy Commissioner Robin Oliver was one of the 11 in the Tax Working Group.

Along with two others from the group, he believes the costs and bureaucratic red tape involved in adopting all the capital gains options outweigh the benefits.  

“We didn’t agree that this was in the best interest of the country to go the full extent, particularly in the business area, taxing share gains which result in double taxation,” he said.

“To get a valuation for all business assets in all parts business and all business will easily cost over a billion dollars in compliance costs. The amount of revenue you’ll get is relatively minor.”

As for taxing shares, Mr Oliver said it would result in New Zealanders who invest in New Zealand companies paying more tax when foreigners investing in New Zealand companies will pay no more tax. Furthermore, New Zealanders investing in foreign companies will pay no more tax.

“The obvious conclusion is New Zealanders will own less New Zealand companies and more foreign companies, and foreigners will own our companies,” he said. . . 

The proposed tax is no panacea for fairness:

Deloitte tax partner Patrick McCalman warns that a CGT is not a panacea for tax fairness.

“At one level, there is an attractiveness in the argument that a ‘buck is a buck’ and everyone should bear the same tax burden on every dollar earned. However, when one delves into the detail of the design, other issues of fairness emerge,” says Mr McCalman.

“For example, is it fair that property could pass on death without an immediate CGT cost, while gifts made during one’s life would be taxed? For family businesses, wouldn’t it be more productive to be able to pass assets from generation to generation before death,” he says.

“Accordingly, we need to be cautious as to how much ‘fairness’ a CGT will introduce. It may simply change where the ‘unfairness’ is perceived to sit within the tax system, creating new tax exemptions that would distort where investments are made.”

Complicating matters further is the political dimension. And MMP only exacerbates the political difficulty and increases the likelihood of whatever ultimately sees the light of day being less coherent from a policy perspective. . . 

The Deloitte paper raises several questions about fairness:

At one level there is an attractiveness in the argument that a “buck is a buck” and everyone should therefore bear the same tax burden on every dollar earned. However, when one delves into the detail, other issues of fairness emerge including new tax exemptions which would distort where investments are made – in effect, in seeking to create fairness, the proposal creates a number of layers of unfairness. For example:

    • With a CGT applying at full rates with no inflation indexation, is it fair that someone who buys an asset is taxed on the full amount of any gain when part of that gain is simply inflation? How will they be able to re-invest in a new asset if the inflation element is taxed?
    • Is it fair that the family home and artwork are excluded but most other property is not? Consider a plumber who has a $500,000 house and a $500,000 commercial building who would be taxed on the disposal of the commercial building. Should they have instead bought a $1,000,000 house, rented a business premise and enjoyed a tax free capital gain?
    • Is it fair that that investors in New Zealand shares would pay tax on capital gains but investors in foreign shares would continue to be subject (as they are presently) to the 5% FDR rate (even if gains are less or more)?
    • Is it fair that small business (turnover less than $5 million) could sell assets and defer the CGT bill if they reinvest the proceeds, while medium and larger size business cannot?
    • Is it fair that property could pass on death without an immediate CGT cost but gifts made to children during one’s life would be taxed?
    • Is it fair that there are proposed tax reductions for KiwiSaver to compensate for CGT but not for other forms of investment?

At one level, true fairness can only exist if all asset classes and forms of remuneration are subject to the same tax rate. But even then, anomalies will always arise. . . 

The proposed tax would be especially bad for farming and farmers:

Federated Farmers has said from the outset that a capital gains tax is a mangy dog, that will add unacceptably high costs and complexity.

“There is nothing in the Tax Working Group’s final report, released today, that persuades us otherwise,” Feds Vice-President and Commerce spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

“A CGT would make our well-regarded tax system more complex, it will impose hefty costs, both in compliance for taxpayers and in administration for Inland Revenue, and it will do little or nothing to ease the housing crisis.”

It is notable that even the members of the working group could not agree on the best way forward, with three deciding a tax on capital gains should only apply to the sale of residential rental properties and the other eight recommending it should be broadened to also include land and buildings, assets, intangible property and shares.

“Federated Farmers believes that the majority on the tax working group have badly under-estimated the complexity and compliance costs of what they’re proposing, and over-estimated the returns.”

The recommended ‘valuation day’ approach to establishing the value of assets, even with a five-year window, will be a feeding frenzy for valuers and tax advisors, “and just the start of the compliance headaches for farmers and other operators of small businesses that are the driving force of the New Zealand society and economy. . .

Farm succession is difficult enough as it is.

A CTG would make it harder still and encourage older farmers to hold on to their farms. That would lead to more absentee ownership and leasing with less investment in improvements as happens in other countries.

New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of many wealthy people and while those relatively few would pay more with the CGT as proposed, if their accountants and lawyers didn’t help them find ways to minimise their liability, they’d still be wealthy.

The many small business owners and more modest investors would not. They’d have the reward for their hard work and thrift cut back and lose enough of the value of their investments to hurt – unless they’d invested in art, cars or yachts which would be exempt.

That sends the message that such luxuries are good while investing in businesses and productive assets is not.

Where’s the fairness in that?


Thatcher thinks

February 21, 2019


CGT deliberately harsh so won’t be implemented?

February 21, 2019

The Taxpayers’ Union says the Tax Working Group’s recommendation for a capital gains tax is one of the most aggressive in the world.

Sir Michael’s group was supposed to deliver ‘fairness’. Instead, he’s given something Kiwi taxpayers should fear.

In our recent report, we outlined Five Rules for a Fair Capital Gains Tax, but any notion of fairness has been flagrantly disregarded by the Working Group. It fails most of our tests.

As expected, the Group is proposing a full-scale capital gains tax, among other measures such as environmental taxes.

The only assets excluded from the proposed capital gains tax are small family homes and art – commercial property, businesses, publicly listed shares, and every other type of enterprise will be slammed by this tax:

    • Capital gains will be charged at 33% for the majority of taxpayers – one of the most punitive capital gains tax regimes in the world, and more than twice the rate proposed by the Labour Party at the 2011 and 2014 elections.  
    • There will be no inflation adjustment – even paper gains will be hoovered up by IRD.
    • Revenue neutrality only applies for the first five years: while the group proposes changes to income tax thresholds (see below) most of the revenue from a capital gains tax is forecast to be collected after five years — after ‘revenue neutrality’ has expired.
    • ‘Valuation Day’ is imminent: taxpayers will be forced to value their assets within five years, or must rely on rough and ready evaluations (such as rateable value for land).  

Even though the Government explicitly ruled out taxing the family home, properties larger than 4500m2 will in fact be taxed. The message to regional New Zealand is that their lifestyle blocks, farms, and semi-rural properties don’t deserve the protection given to Wellington and Auckland penthouses and townhouses.

Iwi-owned businesses will pay a discounted rate (17.5 percent, compared to 33 percent for other businesses).

In short, the proposal is as bad as we could have feared.

It is a costly, bureaucratic, and seemingly envy-driven tax grab. It threatens New Zealand’s prosperity, drives up housing costs, and punishes responsible investors.

You can read the Tax Working Group’s final report here.

Proposed sweetener with changes to income tax appear to be spin rather than substantive

While the Working Group supports adjusting the bottom tax threshold, they propose coupling this with an increase in the second tax rate from 17.5% to 20.5% to increase ‘progressivity’.

From an economic incentive perspective, this is a terrible move. Even though many taxpayers will receive a small tax cut, middle-income earners would face a higher marginal tax rate on additional earnings, which reduces the incentive to take on more hours, skill-up, or take-on extra responsibility at work.

45.6 percent of earners fall within the second tax bracket, hundreds of thousands of earners could be affected by this distortion in incentives – the cumulative economic effect would be massive. . . 

What government in its right mind would introduce a tax to fear rather than a fair tax, one that is costly, bureaucratic, and seemingly envy-driven and a disincentive to savings and investment?

If I was a conspiracy theorist I’d say the TWG has deliberately made it too harsh so that it would be political suicide to introduce it, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.


CGT gets it back to front

February 21, 2019

If there’s such a good thing as a good tax, it’s one that discourages things we don’t want and encourages things we do.

That’s where the Tax Working Group was handicapped from the start when the government ruled out any CGT on the family home.

A CGT hasn’t had any impact on keeping house prices down in other countries, but if, as we’re constantly told New Zealander’s over-invest in their houses, taxing other capital gains and leaving houses alone will only make matters worse.

We’re also told, with good reason, that New Zealand lacks savings and investments. Why then would a government introduce a tax which disincentives them?

If has been widely forecast the Tax Working group’s report recommends a CGT on savings, investment and businesses and not on family homes, it will be getting the tax the bad more and the good less rule back to front.

It will almost certainly get a lot more wrong.

The Taxpayer’s Union provided five rules for a CGT:

To be fair, a new capital gains tax must abide by the following:

  1. No Valuation Day: Any capital gains tax regime should exclude a valuation day approach in favour of grandfathering assets into the system upon sale, as was the case in Australia when it introduced a capital gains tax.
  2. Indexation for Inflation: Any capital gains tax regime must discount for inflation, so taxpayers are taxed only on their real capital gains, rather than nominal gains.
  3. Revenue Neutrality: Given the Government’s surpluses, any revenue from a capital gains tax must be used to fund tax cuts in other areas so that the total tax burden does not increase overall.
  4. Roll-Over Relief: Tax should be paid only on sale – not death. Further, there should be roll-over relief when capital raised from a sale is then immediately invested in the same asset class.
  5. Discounted Rate: Any capital gains tax should apply at a discounted rate, instead of at the full personal income tax rate, to avoid New Zealand having one of the highest capital gains tax rates in the world.

The TU has also provided 19 details to look out for in the recommendation for a CGT:

Details to look out for include:

  • Rollover relief:
    • will the capital gains tax apply on death or just on sale of an asset;
    • will the tax apply if capital is simply being recycled within the same asset class (selling a smaller farm to purchase a larger farm, for example)?
  • The rate:
    • will there will be a discounted or lower rate, like in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, or the United States?
  • Revenue neutrality:
    • will the revenue be offset with tax cuts;
    • if so, who will receive them;
    • will revenue neutrality be maintained in the medium-to-long term as CGT revenue grows?
  • Family home exemption:
    • will there be exemption exclusions for large properties (will lifestyle blocks be subject to the tax?);
    • will there be a ‘maximum value’ for the family home;
    • how much tax will be payable if there is an exemption exclusion?
  • ‘Valuation Day’:
    • will asset owners be required to value their property and businesses;
    • if so, will it be at their expense, or will the general taxpayer be required to pay;
    • if the general taxpayer is required to pay, what will be the estimated cost of ‘V-Day’;
    • how much time will taxpayers have to obtain asset valuations;
    • if valuations are not obtained, will other ‘default valuations’ be used?
  • Exemptions:
    • are there any sectoral exemptions (e.g. racing, fisheries);
    • will Maori authorities pay capital gains tax, if so, at what rate;
    • how are vehicles, boats, antiques etc. treated?
  • Trusts:
    • at what rate are trusts taxed;
    • will they be taxed on accrued or realised gains?

Fairness, which is the supposed motivation for introducing a CGT, is very much a matter of opinion but if the proposals from the TWG don’t meet the five rules, it will be anything but fair and do more harm by disincentivising savings and investment.

 


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