Alberta government should undo personal income tax hikes

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Appeared in the Calgary Sun, April 3, 2024
Alberta government should undo personal income tax hikes

On the campaign trail, Danielle Smith promised to create a new 8 per cent tax bracket for personal income below $60,000. While the tax cut was delayed in the recently tabled 2024 budget, it remains a good idea—in fact, Premier Smith should go a step further and create a single tax rate of 8 per cent for personal income.

First, some context.

As recently as 2014, Alberta had the lowest top combined (that is, provincial and federal) personal income tax (PIT) rate in North America. Paired with a low business income tax rate and no sales tax, Alberta had a powerful tax advantage that made the province a very attractive place to work and invest.

But in 2015, the NDP government replaced Alberta’s single personal income tax rate of 10 per cent with a five-bracket system including a top marginal rate of 15 per cent.

As a result, as noted in a new study published by the Fraser Institute, Alberta now has the 10th highest combined PIT rate in North America. And crucially, higher than rates in U.S. energy jurisdictions such as Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota and Alaska, which compete with Alberta for talent and investment.

If the Smith government reduced Alberta’s top PIT rate to 8 per cent, it would be the lowest provincial rate in Canada and Alberta would have one of the lowest top combined PIT rates in North America (41.0 per cent). Put simply, the change would go a long way to restoring Alberta’s previous tax advantage. And approximately 2.3 million Albertans would save $1,573 per year (on average), which means more money in the pockets of Albertans.

Moreover, a significant body of research finds that high income tax rates discourage economic growth by reducing after-tax income from work, savings, investment and entrepreneurship. Correspondingly, high income tax rates tend to negatively affect economic growth while lower rates stimulate economic activity. In other words, this tax change could come with big economic benefits to Albertans by attracting investment and high-skilled workers that fuel innovation and job creation.

Finally, this tax change may be more fiscally feasible than one might think. Based on budget data from the Smith government, reducing Alberta’s multi-bracket PIT system to a single rate of 8 per cent would’ve led to an estimated revenue loss of $3.8 billion in 2023/24, which is equivalent to just 5.1 per cent of total provincial government revenue that year. And the behavioural affect from lower taxes—increased work, savings and investment—could dramatically reduce the amount of revenue lost.

It’s time the Smith government make good on its campaign promise and finally undo the personal income tax hikes by the previous NDP government. Returning to a single-rate personal income tax system would help restore the province’s lost tax advantage and attract the entrepreneurs, businesses and investment that fuel a strong economy.