Trudeau’s promised ‘middle class’ tax cut excludes most Canadians

Posted on November 12, 2015 in Inclusion Delivery System – ROB/Economy/Economic Insight
Nov. 12, 2015.   Andrew Jackson

The so-called “middle class” tax cut promised by the newly elected Liberal government in the name of promoting greater fairness seems set to be quickly implemented for the 2016 tax year. Yet the distributional and revenue consequences of this measure are often misunderstood, and the proposed change merits reconsideration.

Currently, there are four federal tax brackets: 15 per cent on taxable incomes of less than $44,701; 22 per cent on further income up to $89,401; 26 per cent on further income up to $138,586; and 29 per cent on income above that amount.

The promise is to cut the federal income tax rate to 20.5 per cent from 22 per cent on taxable incomes between $44,701 and $89,401, which yields a maximum tax saving per individual tax filer of $670, and more for many families with more than one income.

The threshold for this tax break is almost exactly the same as average taxable income – roughly $45,000 – so anyone with a below-average income fails to qualify.

In fact, this measure fails to benefit the great majority of Canadians since only about a third of tax filers have an above-average income. Canada Revenue Agency data (for 2012) show that 8.5 million out of 25.5 million had taxable incomes above $45,000 in that year, roughly the income threshold needed to benefit from the new tax break.

Further, it is not always appreciated that a cut in the rate in any one tax bracket benefits all tax filers in higher brackets. The maximum tax saving of $670 is phased in between taxable income of $44,701 and $89,401, and then benefits everyone with incomes above $89,401.

It can be calculated from Statistics Canada data on high-income taxpayers that fully one half of the $3-billion in savings flowing from the “middle class” tax cut will in fact go to the top 10 per cent of individual tax filers who had taxable incomes of more than $89,200 in 2012. Beneficiaries include the top 1 per cent with incomes of more than $222,000, though this elite group will face a new top tax rate of 33 per cent, up from 29 per cent today.

To summarize, the major gains from the “middle class” tax cut will go to individuals with incomes between $89,200 and $200,000, roughly the top 10 per cent, minus the top 1 per cent who will pay higher taxes to pay for the tax cut for those below them on the income ladder.

As is well known, the incomes of the top 1 per cent have grown much faster than those of ordinary Canadians in recent years, with their share of all income rising to 10.3 per cent from 8.1 per cent from 1990 to 2012. Meanwhile, the income share of the bottom 50 per cent of Canadians fell to 16.7 per cent from 19.3 per cent over the same period.

While the top 1 per cent did extremely well, especially those with ultrahigh incomes, the data show that the income share of the top 10 per cent minus the top 1 per cent has also risen significantly since 1990, to 24.8 per cent from 22.7 per cent.

The real losers over the past 15 years and more have been the middle- and lower-income earners who will not benefit much if at all from the new “middle class” tax cut.

While the higher tax rate on the top 1 per cent promised by the new government as well as the new system of child benefits will certainly promote greater income equality, the same cannot be said of this measure.

Further, rather little has been said about the revenue consequences of the new tax bracket beyond the calculation that it will cost about $3-billion a year on implementation. But this overlooks the fact that a lowering of the tax rate will reduce the growth of income tax revenue relative to the growth in taxable incomes. Typically, income tax revenue rises faster than incomes since earnings growth pushes some taxpayers into higher tax brackets, even though these are indexed to inflation.

It also remains to be seen if the new top tax rate on very high-income earners will bring in enough new revenue to fund the middle-class tax cut, or will create a hole in revenue.

The new government is to be applauded for promising a higher tax rate on the top 1 per cent. But the cause of equality and inclusiveness would be better served by devoting this new revenue to programs and services which benefit middle and lower income Canadians rather than to a so-called “middle-class” tax cut.

Andrew Jackson is adjunct research professor at the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University, and senior policy adviser to the Broadbent Institute.

See “Middle Class Tax Cut” Chart: < >.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2015 at 11:09 am and is filed under Inclusion Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “Trudeau’s promised ‘middle class’ tax cut excludes most Canadians”

  1. What a joke! Four more years?


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