Tax cut announcement light on detail

9:27 am on 9 September 2014

After a week of news media expectation National Party leader John Key announced his tax cut package yesterday.

Except it was not a tax cut package because Mr Key never said he would release the details of tax cuts yesterday.

Watch video of National leader John Key outline the 'tax cuts'

Instead, he and his finance spokesperson, Bill English, laid out the broad outlines of a possible tax cut in April 2017, as long as the economy is fine and the government's books are in good shape.

It will be aimed at low and middle income earners but exactly how National would ensure they get the lion's share of any cuts was not clear.

As part of its announcement, National laid out again its spending plans for the next three years, saying it would have an extra $1.5 billion available for new spending in each of the next three years.

It would commit $600 - $700 million to health and education and put aside $500 million for repaying debt and cutting taxes.

By 2017 it would have $1 billion available for tax cuts.

But how could it be done?

One way would be to cut lower marginal tax rates.

Under the current tax rates people pay 10.5 percent on income up to $14,000; 17.5 percent on incomes between $14,001 and $48,000; 30 percent on income between $48,001 and $70,000; and 33 percent on income earned over $70,000.

According to Treasury estimates reducing the 17.5 rate to 16.5 percent would cost $485 million in lost tax and reduce the bottom rate by one cent would cost $335 million.

So a move just like that would essentially absorb nearly all of the money the government said was available for tax cuts.

The other option for the government is to lift the income levels at which higher rates of tax apply.

That would not be cheap. Lifting the $48,000 threshold to $49,000, for example, would cost the Government $116 million in lost tax.

But this is all speculation at this point. National is not even close to working out the details of its policy.

Mr Key acknowledged any tax cut is likely to be minimal.

He said, however, even a tax cut of $10-a-week would be welcomed by low income earners.

He also brushed off criticism he should have had more detail to release, with reporters pointing out he had been critical of Labour leader David Cunliffe for failing to know the details of his tax policy.

Mr Cunliffe repeated that criticism, he said Mr Key had announced tax cuts three years from now without knowing how they would be put into effect.

Watch Labour leader David Cunliffe's response to the 'tax cuts'

Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman also criticised the plan, saying the money being put aside for tax cuts should be used to help reduce child poverty.

Mr Key said the point of his announcement was that it made the difference between a government he would lead and the alternative Labour-Green administration clear.

Mr Key said under National the government would tax and spend less while Labour and the Greens would tax and spend more.

But both Labour and Greens said they would run bigger surpluses than National.

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent

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