Happy Tax Freedom Day… Well, Sort of

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Appeared in Winnipeg Free Press, Trail Daily Times, Sault St Marie This Week, Vegreville Observer, Okanagan Saturday, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, Lethbridge Herald, New Glasgow News, Brantford Expositor

On Saturday June 6th, Canadians across the country will be celebrating Tax Freedom Day, the day the average Canadian has earned enough money to cover the total amount of taxes that they are obliged to pay to various levels of Canadian government. From here on in, Canadians are working for themselves and their families.

With the income tax filing deadline having just passed, many Canadians are likely still getting over the shock of just how much income tax they paid last year. Income taxes however account for only about one-third of the total taxes Canadians pay. Add property taxes, sales taxes, profit taxes, health taxes, social security taxes, alcohol taxes, tobacco taxes, fuel taxes and many others to the mix and the average Canadian will pay $37,700 in taxes (42.6 per cent of income) in 2009.

It is of course, near impossible for an average Canadian to calculate their total tax bill. Therein lies the value of Tax Freedom Day: it gives Canadians an easy-to-understand, accurate measure of the taxes they pay. It may not be a day whose passing will be marked by an official government proclamation, but it is an important, easy-to-understand, and accurate measure that average Canadians use to gauge how much tax they actually pay.

Fortunately, Tax Freedom Day comes three days earlier in 2009 than in 2008. But before we get too excited, it is important to understand that the reduction in taxes has little to do with tax reductions by either the federal or provincial governments. Instead, the economic downturn has automatically eased the tax burden on the economy and resulted in an earlier Tax Freedom Day.

In times like these when the economy slows and incomes decline, the tax burden of Canadian families tends to be reduced to a greater extent than income. That means an earlier Tax Freedom Day. Chalk up this accelerated decrease in the tax burden compared to decreases in income to the progressive nature of the Canadian tax system.

Progressivity means that as individuals earn more income, they pay proportionately more in taxes. The reverse is also true. It is this reverse phenomenon that produces an earlier Tax Freedom Day.

Changes aside, the real concern for most Canadians is whether they receive good value for the $37,700 dollars they pay in taxes on average. While many Canadians happily pay their taxes to support the numerous government programs they believe are effective, many others are outraged at the level of taxation and the poor quality of the government services they finance.

On the benefits side, Canadians should consider the findings of the 2007 study—Public Sector Efficiency: An International Comparison—that measured the efficiency of the public sectors in Canada and 23 countries. The study found that Canada’s public sector was relatively inefficient and that we should be able to achieve the same outcomes from government programs while using only 75 per cent of current resources. In other words, there is approximately 25 per cent waste in Canada’s public sector.

In addition, Canada’s Auditor General consistently finds case after case of government cost overruns, unnecessary spending, improperly managed programs and other examples of government failure.

Let’s not forget the massive “stimulus” packages included in this year’s federal and provincial budgets which will benefit a host of special interest groups including farmers, the auto industry, forestry, tourism, environmentalists, aboriginals, and arts and culture. Nor should we forget the $10.5 billion the federal government just poured into General Motors.

Canadians should also remember that we’re not paying for all of this spending now -- the federal government and most provincial governments are running deficits this year and into the foreseeable future. At some point however, this debt must be paid back by taxes. In other words, deficits should be considered as deferred taxation. And it is also why later Tax Freedom Days in the future are a real possibility.

If Canadian governments actually had to cover current expenditures with current taxation and were not able to defer any of the tax burden by running a deficit, Tax Freedom Day would be significantly later in the year. In fact, it would arrive on June 25 – 19 days later.

On that note, Happy Tax Freedom Day.

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