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New capital gains hike won’t work as claimed but will harm the economy

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From the Fraser Institute

By Alex Whalen and Jake Fuss

Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest.

Amid a federal budget riddled with red ink and tax hikes, the Trudeau government has increased capital gains taxes. The move will be disastrous for Canada’s growth prospects and its already-lagging investment climate, and to make matters worse, research suggests it won’t work as planned.

Currently, individuals and businesses who sell a capital asset in Canada incur capital gains taxes at a 50 per cent inclusion rate, which means that 50 per cent of the gain in the asset’s value is subject to taxation at the individual or business’ marginal tax rate. The Trudeau government is raising this inclusion rate to 66.6 per cent for all businesses, trusts and individuals with capital gains over $250,000.

The problems with hiking capital gains taxes are numerous.

First, capital gains are taxed on a “realization” basis, which means the investor does not incur capital gains taxes until the asset is sold. According to empirical evidence, this creates a “lock-in” effect where investors have an incentive to keep their capital invested in a particular asset when they might otherwise sell.

For example, investors may delay selling capital assets because they anticipate a change in government and a reversal back to the previous inclusion rate. This means the Trudeau government is likely overestimating the potential revenue gains from its capital gains tax hike, given that individual investors will adjust the timing of their asset sales in response to the tax hike.

Second, the lock-in effect creates a drag on economic growth as it incentivises investors to hold off selling their assets when they otherwise might, preventing capital from being deployed to its most productive use and therefore reducing growth.

And Canada’s growth prospects and investment climate have both been in decline. Canada currently faces the lowest growth prospects among all OECD countries in terms of GDP per person. Further, between 2014 and 2021, business investment (adjusted for inflation) in Canada declined by $43.7 billion. Hiking taxes on capital will make both pressing issues worse.

Contrary to the government’s framing—that this move only affects the wealthy—lagging business investment and slow growth affect all Canadians through lower incomes and living standards. Capital taxes are among the most economically-damaging forms of taxation precisely because they reduce the incentive to innovate and invest. And while taxes on capital do raise revenue, the economic costs exceed the amount of tax collected.

Previous governments in Canada understood these facts. In the 2000 federal budget, then-finance minister Paul Martin said a “key factor contributing to the difficulty of raising capital by new start-ups is the fact that individuals who sell existing investments and reinvest in others must pay tax on any realized capital gains,” an explicit acknowledgement of the lock-in effect and costs of capital gains taxes. Further, that Liberal government reduced the capital gains inclusion rate, acknowledging the importance of a strong investment climate.

At a time when Canada badly needs to improve the incentives to invest, the Trudeau government’s 2024 budget has introduced a damaging tax hike. In delivering the budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said “Canada, a growing country, needs to make investments in our country and in Canadians right now.” Individuals and businesses across the country likely agree on the importance of investment. Hiking capital gains taxes will achieve the exact opposite effect.

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New York and Vermont Seek to Impose a Retroactive Climate Tax

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From Heartland Daily News

By Joshua Loucks for the Cato Institute.

Energy producers will be subject to retroactive taxes in New York if the state assembly passes Senate Bill S2129A, known as the “Climate Change Superfund Act.” The superfund legislation seeks to impose a retroactive tax on energy companies that have emitted greenhouse gases (GHGs) and operated within the state over the last seventy years.

If passed, the new law will impose $75 billion in repayment fees for “historical polluters,” who lawmakers assert are primarily responsible for climate change damages within the state. The state will “assign liability to and require compensation from companies commensurate with their emissions” over the last “70 years or more.” The bill would establish a standard of strict liability, stating that “companies are required to pay into the fund because the use of their products caused the pollution. No finding of wrongdoing is required.”

New York is not alone in this effort. Superfunds built on retroactive taxes on GHG emissions are becoming increasingly popular. Vermont recently enacted similar legislation, S.259 (Act 122), titled the “Climate Superfund Act,” in which the state also retroactively taxes energy producers for historic emissions. Similar bills have also been introduced in Maryland and Massachusetts.

Climate superfund legislation seems to have one purpose: to raise revenue by taxing a politically unpopular industry. Under the New York law, fossil fuel‐​producing energy companies would be taxed billions of dollars retroactively for engaging in legal and necessary behavior. For example, the seventy‐​year retroactive tax would conceivably apply to any company—going back to 1954—that used fossil fuels to generate electricity or produced fuel for New York drivers.

The typical “economic efficiency” arguments for taxing an externality go out the window with the New York and Vermont approach, for at least two reasons. First, the goal of a blackboard or textbook approach to a carbon tax is to internalize the GHG externality. To apply such a tax accurately, the government would need to calculate the social cost of carbon (SCC).

Unfortunately, estimating the SCC is methodologically complex and open to wide ranges of estimates. As a result, the SCC is theoretically very useful but practically impossible to calculate with any reasonable degree of precision.

Second, the retroactive nature of these climate superfunds undermines the very incentives a textbook tax on externalities  would promote. A carbon tax’s central feature is that it is intended to reduce externalities from current and future activity by changing incentives. However, by imposing retroactive taxes, the New York and Vermont legislation will not impact emitters’ future behavior in a way that mimics a textbook carbon tax or improves economic outcomes.

Arbitrary and retroactive taxes can, however, raise prices for consumers by increasing policy uncertainty, affecting firm profitability, and reducing investment (or causing investors to flee GHG‐​emitting industries in the state altogether). Residents in both New York and Vermont already pay over 30 percent more than the US average in residential electricity prices, and this legislation will not lower these costs to consumers.

Climate superfunds are not a serious attempt to solve environmental challenges but rather a way to raise government revenue while unfairly punishing an entire industry (one whose actions the New York legislation claims “have been unconscionable, closely reflecting the strategy of denial, deflection, and delay used by the tobacco industry”).

Fossil fuel companies enabled GHG emissions, of course, but they also empowered significant growth, mobility, and prosperity. The punitive nature of the policy is laid bare by the fact that neither New York nor Vermont used a generic SCC or an evidentiary proceeding to calculate precise damages.

Finally, establishing a standard in which “no finding of wrongdoing is required” to levy fines against historical actions that were (and still are) legally permitted sets a dangerous precedent for what governments can do, not only to businesses that have produced fossil fuels but also to individuals who have consumed them.

Cato research associate Joshua Loucks contributed to this post.

Originally published by the Cato Institute. Republished with permission under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Capital gains tax hike will cause widespread damage in Canadian economy

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jake Fuss and Grady Munro

According to an analysis by economist Jack Mintz, 50 per cent of taxpayers who claim more than $250,000 of capital gains in a year earned less than $117,592 in normal annual income from 2011 to 2021. These include individuals with modest annual incomes who own businesses, second homes or stocks, and who may choose to sell those assets once or infrequently in their lifetimes (such as at retirement)

On Monday, two months after tabling the federal budget, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland introduced a motion in Parliament to increase taxes on capital gains. On Tuesday, the motion passed as the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green Party voted with the Liberals. Unfortunately for Canadians, the tax hike will likely hurt Canada’s economy. And the finance minister continues to make misleading claims to defend it.

Currently, investors who sell capital assets pay taxes on 50 per cent of the gain (based on their highest marginal tax rate). On June 25, thanks to Freeland’s motion, that share will increase to 66.7 per cent for capital gains above $250,000. (Critically, the gain includes inflationary and real increases in the value of the asset.)

According to Minister Freeland, the hike is necessary because it will bring in more than $19 billion of revenue over five years to pay for new spending on housing, national defence and other programs. This claim is disingenuous for two reasons.

First, investors do not pay capital gains taxes until they sell assets and realize gains. A higher capital gains tax rate gives them an incentive to hold onto their investments, perhaps anticipating that a future government may reduce the rate. Individuals and businesses may not sell their assets as quickly as the government anticipates so the tax hike ends up generating less revenue than expected.

Second, the government does not have a revenue problem. Annual federal revenue is increasing and has grown (nominally) more than $185 billion (or 66.2 per cent) from 2014-15 to 2023-24. Before tabling the budget in April, the government was already anticipating annual revenue to increase by more than $27 billion this year. But the government has chosen to spend every dime it takes in (and then some) instead of being disciplined.

Years of unrestrained spending and borrowing have led to a precarious fiscal situation in Ottawa. If the government wanted to pay for new programs, it could’ve reduced spending in other areas. But Minister Freeland largely chose not to do this and sought new revenue tools after realizing this year’s deficit was on track to surpass her fiscal targets. Clearly, raising taxes to generate revenue was unnecessary and could’ve been avoided with more disciplined spending.

Further misleading Canadians, the Trudeau government claims this tax hike will only increase taxes for “0.13 per cent of Canadians.” But in reality, many Canadians earning modest incomes will pay capital gains taxes.

According to an analysis by economist Jack Mintz, 50 per cent of taxpayers who claim more than $250,000 of capital gains in a year earned less than $117,592 in normal annual income from 2011 to 2021. These include individuals with modest annual incomes who own businesses, second homes or stocks, and who may choose to sell those assets once or infrequently in their lifetimes (such as at retirement). Contrary to the government’s claims, the capital gains tax hike will affect 4.74 million investors in Canadian companies (or 15.8 per cent of all tax filers).

In sum, many Canadians who you wouldn’t consider among “the wealthiest” will earn capital gains exceeding $250,000 following the sale of their assets, and be impacted by Freeland’s hike.

Finally, the capital gains tax hike will also inhibit economic growth during a time when Canadians are seeing a historic decline in living standards. Capital gains taxes discourage entrepreneurship and business investment. By raising capital gains taxes the Trudeau government is reducing the return that entrepreneurs and investors can expect from starting a business or investing in the Canadian economy. This means that potential entrepreneurs or investors are more likely to take their ideas and money elsewhere, and Canadians will continue to suffer the consequences of a stagnating economy.

If Minister Freeland and the Trudeau government want to pave a path to widespread prosperity for Canadians, they should reverse their tax hike on capital gains.

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