Tax and politics

Your correspondent is back from Sydney. Had a great time because – well – Sydney.

Managed to score a gig on a panel at the TP Minds conference talking about international policy developments for transfer pricing. An interesting experience as I am pretty strong in most tax areas except GST – and you guessed it – transfer pricing.

But it was ok as I did a bit of prep and all those years of working with the TP people paid off. And of course I do know a little bit about international tax and BEPS so alg.

Even a techo tax conference again reminded me just how different – socially and culturally – Australia is to New Zealand. Examples include: the expression man in the pub being used without any sense of irony or embarrassment and one of the presenters – a senior cool woman from the ATO – wearing a hijab.

Can’t imagine either in tax circles in NZ.

My particular favourite though was watching the telly which showed a clip of Bill Shorten describing franking (imputation) credits as something you haven’t earned and a gift from the government. Now Australia does cash out franking credits but – wow – seriously just wow. Kinda puts any gripes I might have about Jacinda talking about a capital gains tax into perspective.

And in the short time I have been away yet another minor party has formed as well as the continuation of the utter dismay from progressives over the CGT announcement.

In the latter case I am fielding more than a few queries as to what the alternatives actually are to tax fairness is a world where a CGT has been ruled out pretty much for my lifetime.

Now while I have previously had a bit of a riff as to what the options could be, I have been having a think about what I would do if I were ever the ‘in charge person’ – as my kids used to say – for tax.

To become this ‘in charge person’ I guess I’d also have to set up a minor party although minor parties and tax policies are both historically pretty inimical to gaining parliamentary power.

But in for a penny – in for a pound what would be the policies of an Andrea Tax Party be?

Here goes:

Policy 1: All income of closely held companies will be taxed in the hands of its shareholders

First I’d look to getting the existing small company/shareholder tax base tidied up.

On one hand we have the whole corporate veil – companies are legally separate from their shareholders – thing. But then as the closely held shareholders control the company they can take loans from the company – which they may or may not pay interest on depending on how well IRD is enforcing the law – and take salaries from the company below the top marginal tax rate.

On the other hand we have look through company rules – which say the company and the shareholder are economically the same and so income of the company can be taxed in the hands of the shareholder instead. But because these rules are optional they will only be used if the company has losses or low levels of taxable income.

My view is that given the reality of how small companies operate – company and shareholders are in effect the same – taking down the wall for tax is the most intellectual honest thing to do. Might even raise revenue. Would defo stop the spike of income at $70,000 and most likely the escalating overdrawn current account balances.

So look through company rules – or equivalent – for all closely held companies. FWIW was pretty much the rec of the OG Tax Review 2001 (1).

Now that the tax base is sorted out – if someone wants to add another higher rate to the progressive tax scale – fill your boots. But my GenX and tbh past relatively high income earning instincts aren’t feeling it.

Policy 2: Extensive use of withholding taxes

The self employed consume 20% more at the same levels of taxable income as the employed employed. Sit with that for a minute.

20% more.

Now the self employed could have greater levels of inherited wealth, untaxed capital gains or like really awesome vegetable gardens.

Mmm yes.

Or its tax evasion. Cash jobs, not declaring income, income splitting or claiming personal expenses against taxable income.

Now in the past I have got a bit precious about the use of the term tax evasion or tax avoidance but I am happy to use the term here. This is tax evasion.

IRD says that puts New Zealand at internationally comparable levels (2). Gosh well that’s ok then.

Not putting income on a tax return needs to be hit with withholding taxes. Any payment to a provider of labour – who doesn’t employ others – needs to have withholding taxes deducted.

Cash jobs need hit by legally limiting the level of payments allowed. Australia is moving to $10,000 but why not – say $200? I mean who other than drug dealers carries that much cash anyway?

Claiming personal expenses is much harder. This we will have to rely on enforcement for.

Policy 3: Apportion interest deductions between private and business

Currently all interest deductions are allowable for companies – because compliance costs. Otherwise interest is allowed as a deduction if the funding is directly connected to a business thing.

Seems ok.

What it means though is that for someone with a small business and personal assets such as a house, all borrowing can go against the business and be fully deductible.

Options include some form of limitation like thin capitalisation or debt stacking rules. I’d be keen though on apportionment. If you have $2 million in total assets and $1 million of debt – then only 50% of the interest payable is deductible.

Policy 4: Clawback deductions where capital gains are earned

Currently so long as expenditure is connected with earning taxable income it is tax deductible. It doesn’t matter how much taxable income is actually earned or if other non-taxable income is earned as well.

Most obvious example is interest and rental income. So long as the interest is connected with the rent it is deductible even if a non-taxable capital gain is also earned.

One way of limiting this effect is the loss ringfencing rules being introduced by the government. Another way would be – when an asset or business is sold for a profit – clawback any loss offsets arising from that business or asset. Yes you would need grouping rules but the last government brought in exactly the necessary technology with its R&D cashing out losses (4).

Policy 5: Publication of tax positions

And finally just to make sure my party is never elected – taxable income and tax paid of all taxpayers – just like in Scandinavia will be published. Because if everyone is paying what they ought. Nothing to hide. And would actually give public information as to what is going on.

Options not included

What’s not there is any form of taxation of imputed income like rfrm. It isn’t a bad policy but taxing something completely independent of what has actually happened – up or down – doesn’t sit well with me.

Also no mention of inheritance tax. Again not a bad policy I’d just prefer to tax people when they are alive.

And for international tax I think keep the pressure on via the OECD because the current proposals plus what has already been enacted in New Zealand is already pretty comprehensive.

Now I know none of this is exactly exciting and so I’ll get the youth wing to do the next post.

Andrea


(1) Overview IX

(2) Paragraph 6

(3) Treatment of interest when asset held in a corporate structure

(4) Page 11 onward

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