Opinion: The National Party released its long-teased tax plan on Wednesday morning. On the one hand, one can applaud National for focusing on delivering tax savings and credits to most income earners, and removing the unprincipled changes to our property tax rules.

On the other hand, the announcement was missing a statement on the trustee’s tax rate change to 39 percent, which many were hoping National would remove, and the change to remove the ability to claim depreciation on commercial property fell into the same heffalump trap as was done when first removed by National in Budget 2010.

Lifting tax rate thresholds

Inflation indexing our personal marginal tax rate thresholds is long overdue. Leaving these fixed in times of inflation means we end up overtaxing people who have income increased to match inflation. That is, governments take home more tax as a consequence of inflation. Inflation indexing marginal tax rate thresholds preserves the original policy settings when the thresholds were set and means people will only pay comparatively more tax when their income increases above rates of inflation because, for example, they have had a promotion.

Government inflation indexes excise taxes and related duties. It seems only reasonable personal tax rate thresholds should be raised periodically when appropriate owing to inflationary pressures.

Property rule changes

The proposal to roll back the bright-line rules (that tax residential property purchased and sold within 10 years) to two years as introduced is to be welcomed. The rules were more aptly targeted at property that was potentially speculative in nature. Further, the extension to 10 years came with a raft of additional complexities that created unnecessary tax traps and compliance costs.

The arbitrary nature of the bright-line rules gives rise to tax outcomes that should not have happened, and the extension of the bright-line to 10 years exacerbated this. Though the bright-line rules were enacted with the best of intentions to better capture property speculators, they remain imprecise. Their arbitrary and poorly targeted nature combined with the design of the main home exception means rules are unfairly catching out everyday property owners who had no intention to profit from a land sale.

There are better, more efficient measures to deal with income splitting through trusts and one would have expected the National Party to have at least stated this will be reviewed or put out for consultation

Our firm is defending a client being pursued by Inland Revenue which maintains they have a pattern of purchasing and selling main homes. This is just a ridiculous argument to be having when the person concerned moved home for entirely personal reasons. I hope National will consult on getting rules to cater better for the raft of unforeseen circumstances that arise. For example, clients who have had to sell homes because they lost employment – this should not generate taxable income.

Rolling back the prohibition on the deductibility of interest costs on rentals is welcome. Prohibiting deductions for costs incurred in owning income-earning assets is completely contrary to principled tax policy.

Presumably this will also mean all the “new-build concessions”, which allowed full interest deductibility for rentals and limited the bright-line test to five years, will be flushed out of our tax system as well. Good riddance.

Disappointingly, no mention was made of the rules that limit tax deductions against rental income to the income derived until the property is sold. Again, as with denying interest deductions, the policy solution is not to deny deductions as a means of trying to reverse tax an asset.

GST on the gig economy

Removing the changes to GST on the gig economy will no doubt be welcomed by those people affected. However, these rules did ensure those in the gig economy operating outside the tax system were brought into tax base. That said, changes to the employment laws may partially affect the requirement for the gig economy to be GST registered in any event.

Trustee’s tax rate

The minuses of the announcement were no statement on the tax changes to the trustee’s tax rate to 39 percent and the proposed changes to commercial building depreciation. Problematically, the 39 percent tax rate, which was targeted at people diverting personal services income through trusts, taxes both the personal income diverted and also income from savings.

There are better, more efficient measures to deal with income splitting through trusts and one would have expected the National Party to have at least stated this will be reviewed or put out for consultation to consider the policy objectives and potentially better solutions rather than the sledgehammer-looking-to-smash-a-nut-approach as proposed by the Government.

Commercial property

On the proposal to remove the ability to claim depreciation on commercial buildings – clearly, lessons were not learned from 2010 when this was done the first time around. As well as meaning we are now overtaxing the primary sector, as their farm buildings and the like really do depreciate, the change creates the addition of very large deferred-tax liabilities on the balance sheets of many large commercial property owners. This comes from the fact that buildings held to derive income through use will continue to be depreciated for accounting purposes but not tax – the difference in treatment between accounting and tax equalling an accounting liability. Last time around, this created a huge furore as it added hundreds of millions of dollars of liabilities to New Zealand balance sheets.

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