Let’s not need bread deciders

December 12, 2017

Eric Crampton writes on why clean GST is better:

. . . Just imagine the conversations the bread deciders might have at cocktail parties.

“Oh, what do you do for a living?”
“Well, I’m a bread decider.”
“A what?”
“A bread decider. I decide whether or not things are bread.”
“But doesn’t everybody know what’s bread and what isn’t?”
“Ah, but think about a mini ciabatta, which is an interesting borderline case.”
“But why would anybody care?”
“Well, taxes …”
“And you’ve not shot yourself yet?”
“Well, I also have a side-gig as a pizza decider …”

We do not know how lucky we are in New Zealand. We have no need of bread-deciders. So far. . .

Anyone who thinks complicating New Zealand’s GST is a good idea should think again.

New Zealand’s GST is uniquely, and admirably, clean. It applies broadly. Every producer has an incentive to report honestly because they also report the GST they paid to their suppliers on every item when claiming GST on their inputs.

That’s a very important point, keeping the system simple incentivises honesty.

Were New Zealand to exempt healthy foods from GST, we would well be on the slippery slope. It is one of those things that sounds really easy, but would be an utter disaster in practice.

What counts as healthy? Not only does the medical evidence keep changing, but there would also be a string of boundary cases needing adjudication. If beans are healthy, what about frozen beans? Beans in a can? Beans in a can with pork fat and sauce? How much pork fat and sauce before it is taxable? What if we use Jamie Oliver’s recipe and fly him in to say it’s good?

Even worse, think through the consequences of tax exemption.

Under the current beautiful broad-base, low-rate system, companies gather all their receipts for everything they purchased when making things and claim the GST on them. They then charge GST on the full value of their final product. Their net GST is on the value they added to their inputs along the way, since they netted out the GST from the inputs. Nice, clean and easy.

If some goods were exempt from GST, we would have problems. Imagine you were a food manufacturer making two products. One attracts GST and one does not. It is possible to charge GST on one product and not the other, but all the point-of-sale terminals would need to be reprogrammed – feasible but expensive. But how do you start thinking about claiming the GST on your inputs if you are selling an exempt product. You will need to justify how you apportion all your plant’s shared costs across the different product lines. And Internal Revenue would worry you were loading costs onto the taxable line to claim GST where you shouldn’t. The auditors would be kept busy.

And an industry would quickly emerge to make everything seem easier – and to prevent it all from ever really being easier. The political case for exemptions is dangerously tantalising. And when you’ve granted one, it is almost impossible to resist granting others. . . 

A little exemption is like a little bit pregnant, it doesn’t stop there. You become more pregnant then you have a baby and the baby grows  . . .

Any exemptions to taxes add complications which add compliance costs and incentives for avoidance all of which is a handbrake on productivity.

Let’s not get on the slippery slope to bread deciders and beyond.

Simple taxes are better taxes.

New Zealand GST is simple and it should stay that way.

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Simple taxes better taxes

November 24, 2017

Former Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen will chair the working group which is taxed with finding a fairier tax system:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash announced the terms of reference for the group, which will come up with a series of recommendations by February 2019 which the government will then use to inform its policy direction at the next general election. Robertson said he isn’t making a grab for cash. Reforms could be fiscally neutral and he had an open mind on whether a capital gains tax would be necessary.

“The main goal here is to create a better, balanced and fairer tax system for New Zealand,” Robertson said. “Our belief at the moment is that we do not have that.”

The group has been told to consider the economic environment over the next five-to-10 years and how that’s affecting changing business models, demographics and business practices; whether some form of housing, land or capital gains tax would improve the system; whether a progressive company tax with lower rates for small businesses would improve the system and business environment; and what role tax can play in delivering environment benefits. . . 

The group has been told not to look at increasing income tax rates or the rate of GST, inheritance tax, a tax on the family home, or the adequacy of the personal tax system and its interaction with the transfer system. It has been directed to look at technical matters already under review such as international tax reform targeting multinational profit shifting, and the tax department’s business transformation programme.

While the issue of applying GST to goods and services bought online from overseas could be dealt with separately and was not part of the working group’s brief, Robertson said the group could examine exemptions from GST for particular categories of goods. Labour’s coalition partner in government, NZ First, has campaigned for years to remove GST from fruit and vegetables.

Robertson said the group will be able to look at the tax treatment on savings and investment, which has cropped up in previous reviews as an area in need of reform.

The best taxes are simple taxes.

Taking GST off fruit and vegetables sounds simple but it isn’t. If it’s all fruit and vegetables it will include processed ones which might have lots of sugar and salt added. But if it’s only fresh fruit and vegetables luxury imports like pomegranate will be exempt while frozen vegetables won’t.

Our GST is lauded around the world for its simplicity. Once you introduce exemptions it gets complicated, inconsistent and more expensive to administer.

National’s Finance spokesman Steven Joyce says the working group is underwhelming:

“Its Terms of Reference is written so that it will propose one significant thing at the end of it, a Capital Gains Tax,” Mr Joyce says.

“Yet Mr Robertson’s assertion on the current taxation of capital gains in the property market remains incorrect. People who buy and sell houses for a profit have those profits treated as income for tax purposes under the law today.

“So people can only assume once again that his unspoken desire is to introduce a Capital Gains Tax on farms and small businesses.” . . .

“Nothing will come out of this group that Grant Robertson doesn’t want. And all he wants is a recommendation for a Capital Gains Tax.

“Mr Robertson would be better to dispense with the expense to taxpayers and write out his tax policy for the next election when the time comes in the normal manner.”

I’m not opposed to a CGT per se, if it was fiscally neutral through reductions elsewhere. But as with GST, a simple CGT would be a better one.

Once there are exemptions there are loopholes which will be very good for lawyers and accountants but much less so for the aim of balance and fairness.

 


Water tax by the numbers

September 21, 2017

When policy is based on politics rather than logic it’s difficult to work out the cost, but IrrigtionNZ has done the numbers for the water tax:

Recent attempts to estimate the cost of Labour’s proposed water tax to farmers have demonstrated a basic lack of understanding of how irrigation works, says nonprofit membership body IrrigationNZ.

This issue, which is compounded by a lack of detail from Labour about how the tax would be applied, has resulted in some widely varying estimates. Radio New Zealand’s ‘Fact or Fiction’ series calculated the cost for irrigated farms at $13,800 a year, whereas figures from DairyNZ have estimated a figure of $45,000 a year.

On top of this, yesterday Jacinda Ardern told TVNZ there are 12,000 farms in New Zealand and 2,000 of them have irrigation. In fact according to Statistics NZ and the 2012 Agricultural Census there are 58,071 farms in NZ and 10,500 have consent for irrigation. Irrigation NZ estimates the number of irrigated farms is now at around 11,000.

‘The public will rightly be confused by these very different figures,’ says IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Andrew Curtis. ‘But the lack of detail on how Labour would apply a water tax compounded with the sheer number of variables between farms – for example their size, what they produce, and how dry the region is, makes it hard to estimate with accuracy. While recent coverage has focused on the impact on dairy farms – just over half of our irrigated farms are not used for dairy – but for sheep or beef, arable farming, horticulture or vineyards. These farmers and growers will also pay the tax.”

IrrigationNZ has spent the last decade developing a comprehensive suite of standards, codes of practice, guidelines and knowledge resources on irrigation, and now run over 50 training courses a year nationally. IrrigationNZ’s main focus is providing knowledge and training to help irrigators achieve ‘excellence in irrigation.

‘Our figures, based on the average irrigated farm in Canterbury of 220 hectares, show an actual average cost of $24,000 to $29,000 a year (at 2 cents per 1000 litres). We’ve used Canterbury figures because there is no national average figure available for the size of an irrigated farm – but there is for Canterbury, where 60 per cent of irrigated land is.’

‘When this additional cost is put in context of the profit generated by a family farming business – it will create a significant impact, particularly for sheep and beef, arable and vegetable farmers who have reasonably tight operating margins.”

Mr Curtis adds that there will be larger farms and those farmers operating in drier climates who will be facing significantly higher bills of $40,000 to $50,000 or more.

Will non-irrigated farms pay?

While both Radio New Zealand and DairyNZ calculated water tax costs for non-irrigated farms, it remains unclear whether these farms would be paying the tax as it is unclear whether they would qualify as ‘large commercial users of water’. The only users mentioned by Labour are water bottlers and irrigators.

6% of New Zealand farms are irrigated (around 11,000 farms). Regardless of whether other farms may pay some of the tax costs, the majority of the tax will fall on a small subset of farmers.

Calculating a water tax on irrigated farms – key variables:

Type of farming – from dairy, to sheep, arable, or horticulture (DairyNZ’s figures were for dairy farms)
Size of farm
Amount of rainfall
Actual water use vs consented take
Number of days irrigation water is applied
The cost of the tax.
IrrigationNZ has been surprised by the growing number of irrigation experts in NZ.

‘Academics, economists and organisations that wouldn’t have the knowledge to turn on an irrigator are all offering their expert opinions on the cost of a water tax. Anyone talking about the potential cost of a water tax must have some basic understanding of water use by irrigators and not everyone offering an opinion currently seems to have that,” says Andrew Curtis.

‘We’d be happy to run a special course for the growing list of water tax experts – to help people to brush-up on their irrigation knowledge and assumptions.’

Calculating irrigation water use – the backbround

Before entering into the ‘how much will irrigators pay’ debate some basic knowledge of water use by irrigators is required.

‘The key piece of information is 1 mm of rainfall (noting rainfall is measured in millimetres not millilitres) falling over 1 hectare is equivalent to 10m3 which is equivalent to 10,000 litres). This provides some context around the sensationalist numbers being used by some parties around irrigation water use,’ says Andrew Curtis.

“For example over the Canterbury region (4.5 million hectares) an annual rainfall of just under 1,650mm or 74 trillion litres falls. However, we all know this isn’t distributed evenly and that’s why we need to irrigate – to provide additional rain for a crop to grow during dry periods. Under 500 mm falls at the coast, rising to 1,000 mm in the foothills and well over 2,000 mm in the mountains.”

For the 500,000 ha of irrigation in Canterbury (based on a seasonal allocation of 550 mm which is explained below) this means the maximum use for irrigation is 4.5 trillion litres or 6% of the annual rainfall.

“It is important to realise irrigators must hold a consent to take water for irrigation, and this contains a seasonal allocation expressed as a volume in m3. This volume is the maximum amount of water an irrigator is allowed to take and based on 80% application efficiency (the agreed industry standard) and 90% supply reliability,” says Mr Curtis.

Councils use a water allocation tool, such as Irricalc (http://irrigationnz.co.nz/practical-resources/irrigation-development/water-allocation-calculator/) to calculate a farms seasonal irrigation allocation requirements. These tools are based on a daily time step water balance model that uses the local climate and the farms soil water holding properties.

“However, when we case study an individual farm we always base it on the seasonal volume written on their consent – as this is the most likely method through which a water tax charge will be calculated,” says Mr Curtis.

David Clark gives the impact the tax will have on his cropping farm:

 


Let’s not tax this

September 16, 2017

Labour backed down on introducing a capital gains tax without putting it to the electorate in 2020, but they’re still planning plenty of other taxes.


Captain called wrong

September 15, 2017

Jacinda Ardern made a captain’s call on the possibility of introducing a capital gains tax without putting it to voters.

Just a couple of weeks ago deputy Kelvin Davis was rebuked for saying it would be put to voters.

Yesterday it was her finance spokesman Grant Robertson who fronted the media to say that was no longer the case.

The captain called wrong.

It shows her inexperience.

It shows the party isn’t ready for government.

It shows their leader isn’t ready to be Prime Minister.

Experience and judgement matter and this episode shows she lacks both.

 

 

 


More tax and bigger budget hole

September 14, 2017

Labour has been frightened into saying it won’t implement any recommendations of its tax working group until after the 2020 election.

But a Labour led government would still add the water,  regional fuel and visitor taxes; reverse the income tax cuts that every party but Labour voted for; and bring farming into the ETS.

And if they don’t introduce new taxes their Budget will have a bigger hole.

A Taxpayers’ Union media release points out:

The Taxpayers’ Union says Labour can’t have it all ways, pointing out that Labour’s manifesto is costed at $23 billion over the next Parliamentary term, second only to New Zealand First.

“Labour have done the right thing in committing to put any capital gains or land tax to the vote,” says Jordan Williams, the group’s Executive Director. “But without new revenue, and having promised new spending of $13,287 per New Zealand household, Labour need to explain what spending they’ll cut in order for Grant Robertson to keep to the Party’s debt targets.”

“Two plus two doesn’t equal five.  Labour can’t credibly promise to hike spending, keep to their debt limits, but also say they won’t hike taxes.  It just doesn’t add up.” . . 

The only way to spend more without taking more in tax is to increase debt.

Labour’s fiscal plan shows it would reduce debt more slowly than National would.

The plan also had a hole, unless you believe a Labour-led government would run zero Budgets.

Ruling out a Land and Capital Gains Tax in the next term is the right thing to do but it will make the hole in Labour’s budget bigger.

 


How much more do you want to pay for food?

September 14, 2017

We don’t know all the details but we do know that a Labour-Green government would impose new taxes on farming:

Green Party and Labour Party policymakers want to hit dairy farmers with a trifecta of environmental taxes that could cost an average of $18,000 per year for each farm, and for those farmers that draw water for irrigation the cost would be in excess of $63,000 per year, says DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.

“But unlike winning the trifecta at the horse races, there’s nothing for New Zealand’s dairy farmers to celebrate,” says Dr Mackle.  “Our economists calculate that the proposed carbon tax would add an average of $6,850 to each farm’s costs, the nitrogen pollution tax would add $11,232 per farm – and then there’s Labour’s proposed water use tax which would add a further $45,000 average for farms irrigating.”   He notes that of New Zealand’s 12,000 dairy herds, 2,000 use irrigation.

“The tax trifecta would severely reduce dairy farm profitability, and possibly require additional borrowing for some farmers to meet expenditure.  It would impact the success of our rural economy, and put at stake the livelihood of our rural communities.” 

It would also inevitably lead to an increase in the cost of food, and that’s without a land and capital gains tax.

Dr Mackle says if a political party had asked him what the dairy sector wanted from Government, he would have said an economy-wide plan outlining the emission reduction expectations for each sector over the longer term.

“Targeting farmers this severely and swiftly does little to incentivise mitigation, and ignores the hard work farmers have been voluntarily doing themselves to lessen emissions.

“Dairy farmers have been operating in a climate of uncertainty with no indication of when they would be faced with a charge for agricultural emissions. Despite this, we have put the Dairy Action for Climate Change plan in place so that all farmers now know what they can be doing right now to reduce their carbon emissions.”

He says the Greens’ leader James Shaw welcomed the climate change plan when it was announced in June.

“He’s well aware of the work currently underway. However, what might be a surprise to him is that we support the concept of a climate commission, and the idea of clear carbon budgets so the dairy sector can plan for the future.”

Dr Mackle adds that the Dairy Action for Climate Change plan is in partnership with Fonterra, and has the support of the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Primary Industries.

“It dovetails with the work of the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), a joint sector and Government reference group. BERG’s purpose is to build robust and agreed evidence on what farmers – that’s dairy, beef, sheep and deer – and the horticultural sector can do to reduce emissions, and to assess the costs and opportunities of doing so. BERG’s final report is due later on this year, and will be vital in informing future policy development on agricultural emissions.”

He says New Zealand is acknowledged as a world-leader for efficiently producing milk on a greenhouse gas per unit of milk basis, as reported by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“And we’re committed to doing even better, but it must be understood by everyone, including the Government of the day, that climate change is too complicated for each sector to attempt to address on its own.

“Rather than strongly taxing dairy, we want strong Government direction to get all sectors – rural and urban – to work together through an economy-wide plan to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions over the longer term.”

Brendan Moyle writing at Sciblogs has calculated the cost if agriculture is forced into the ETS:

. . . Some back-of-the-envelope calculations show putting agriculture into the ETS isn’t straightforward. Supposing the price of carbon is say, $16 per tonne, and 1 kg of beef protein takes the FAO average (see below) of 342kg of CO2 emissions.  If a beef cattle yields 200-250 kg of meat (about 1/6th of which is protein), then that’s about 40kg of protein. That’s associated with about 13-14 tonnes of CO2. So that’s an additional cost of about $200 per beef steer. Any way you play with these numbers, the cost of sheep, beef and dairy farming in NZ is going to rise dramatically. . . 

If the cost of farming increases dramatically profitability drops and the price of food will increase.

If emissions drop here it will be because herd numbers drop. Out competitors in other countries will take up the slack and global emissions will increase because they aren’t nearly as efficient as we are.

Until science comes up with ways to reduce emissions, forcing agriculture into the ETS is just tax for tax’s sake.

It will hit farmers and the New Zealand economy without improving the environment.

Rather than leading to environmental improvement it will lead to an increase in emissions in other countries whose governments are sensible enough to leave agriculture out of their emissions targets.


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