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Tax break or corporate hand-out? A brief comment on Avatar deal

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a deal with Hollywood studios that will allow up to 25% tax rebates on film production expenditure within New Zealand.

While we can all applaud our world-class film industry and the jobs the deal will create, why is the film industry so special? Many industries are still suffering from a high dollar and increased international competition. As the Government acknowledges (at least for film producers) tax matters when it comes to business choosing what country to invest - we compete against the world.  Why should less high profile or ‘cool’ industries shoulder the burden while the film industry is sheltered – would we better off if the Government worked harder to lower taxes for all?  

KPMG have a useful tool to compare tax rates (corporate, individual and indirect) on their website. 

Click here to comment on this blogpost via the Taxpayers' Union Facebook page. Should we working to become more competitive overall, or should we encourage our politicians to 'cut more deals'?  At what point does it become corporate welfare?

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Mayor Brown must pay the money back

As widely covered by media over the weekend, the EY report into suspected misuse of Auckland Council resources by Len Brown is deeply concerning. In addition to the undeclared freebies (including undeclared gifts from Skycity - at the same time as publicly championing the convention centre deal) the report fails to deal with the concerns raised by the Taxpayers' Union in relation to the Mayor's trip to China in January 2013. We still don't know for example:

  1. What was Mayor Brown's spending on the trip?
  2. Why was the trip not announced in the same way as other official trips by Mr Brown?
  3. Why did officials mislead us about the existence of the trip?
  4. Why were officials instructed to refer all enquires about the trip to Mr Brown's Chief of Staff?
  5. Were officials instructed not to disclose the existence of the trip?
  6. What was/is the Council or Mayor trying to hide?

Apology hollow without offer to refund Auckland ratepayers

Today we called on Mr Brown to pay back the money for both his personal expenses and undeclared gift listed in the EY report.  Without the offer to pay the money back, we think the apology made by Mr Brown today to ratepayers is meaningless.

Click continue reading for our media release.

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Competition winner announced

Yesterday the Taxpayers’ Union  announced the winner of its competition for the Aucklander with the highest percentage increase in rates and user-charges.

The winner is Mrs Glenys Smith of Howick, whose rates have more than doubled since 2003.

Mrs Smith is a classic example of an Auckland householder paying more but getting less. In 2003 Mrs Smith’s rates were $1,371 in 2003. They are now more than double, up to nearly $3,100 for 2013/2014.

Mrs Smith also pointed out in her entry that, “When the wastewater charges were taken off the rates, the rates didn’t go down to compensate!”

Mrs Smith wins a KraftMaster petrol lawnmower (perfect for mowing the berms).

The other winner is Mr Colin Shearer of Sunnyhills. Though Mr Shearer didn’t provide the required user charge details to qualify for the lawnmower, his un-capped rates increase was the highest we received. As a discretionary prize, the Taxpayers’ Union is giving Mr Shearer a weed-wacker.

Mr Shearer’s uncapped rates increase is 34.2 per cent, from the 2011/2012 base year. That means that his rates will be over a third higher, in less than four years.

While Len Brown is hiding behind the ‘average’ figure of 2.5 per cent, this is merely an attempt to disguise just how much extra some Auckland households are paying. As the entries show, many Aucklanders are paying much more, while the Council is reducing services such as berm mowing.

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Open letter to Jacinda Ardern

Yesterday the Labour Party confirmed its proposal for a new Children's Ministry and Minister. The Taxpayers' Union emailed Jacinda Ardern, the party's Spokesperson for Children.

Dear Ms Ardern,
We understand from your public comments today that the Labour Party is proposing a new “Children’s Ministry” and “Children’s Minister” (refer to http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1312/S00106/report-slams-government-inaction-on-protecting-our-kids.htm).
The Taxpayers’ Union supports all evidence based measures to help Kiwi kids succeed. We are not certain what yet another ministry (and job title) will achieve in terms of results on the ground. As you are probably aware we welcomed your announcement last month to abolish the Families Commission quango, a move we hoped signalled Labour’s intention to divert resources into front line services, rather than bureaucrats writing reports such as the one titled “Eating Together at Mealtimes”.
As such, we seek the background material on the proposed Ministry/Minister that would answer the following questions:
  1. What are the cost projections to establish the Ministry?
  2. What is the projected per year baseline funding?
  3. Will the Ministry’s primary focus be policy advice or service delivery? If the latter, what responsibility and resources will be taken away from CYF, MSD or other ministries/departments? 
  4. In terms of the number of FTE employees, how large do you propose the Ministry to be?
  5. Can you point to any overseas models or research which would indicate how you propose the new Ministry will work, its service delivery, and outcomes?
  6. How would the Ministry differ from the existing Families Commission?
We propose to post this email on our website. If you have any objection, please let me know without delay.
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union Inc. 

 

Once we have a response, we'll post here.

In the mean time, we're planning our activities for election year. We're considering a 'cost calculator' service to track the promises from each party and check what politicians plan to do with taxpayers' money.  Do you think it's worth us doing? Give us your thoughts by commenting on our Facebook page.

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Kaipara District Council’s wastewater project - an expensive audit failure?

The report of the Auditor-General’s inquiry into the EcoCare wastewater project was released on Tuesday. It revealed serious failures in the management of the project, and strongly criticises Audit NZ. Inaccurate record keeping, mismanagement of the project, lack of financial advice and expertise, and reliance on private partnerships saw a huge budget blowout, with costs exceeding over $63m. For example, the effluent disposal bill alone increased from $361,000 to $14m.

How did the Council pay for this budget blowout? By raising rates for Mangawhai residents. The annual cost to ratepayers was a consideration in assessing the affordability of the project. However, the summary of the report reveals that the Council in fact decided to “increase the number of estimated ratepayers that would be covered by the scheme and contribute to funding it”. This is a fundamental flaw, and the Auditor-General concluded that this decision was not based on an adequate account of predicted growth in the area. This, as well as the undisclosed liabilities are precisely the things Audit NZ should have picked up on.

Overall the report suggests Audit NZ was failing audit 101

The Auditor-General's office (which includes Audit NZ) is supposed to provide assurance that government departments are performing as they should. The report details that:

  • audit quality of the project was varied;
  • the quality of documentation for some audit files were inadequate, especially those explaining why judgments were reached;
  • there was a failure to reassess the project between 2006-2009 despite significant changes that could have been an audit risk; and
  • the auditor’s reliance on information from Kaipara District Council’s management (which, from our examples above, were also clearly inadequate).

Joel Cayford has written a blog post evaluating the report. He’s gone a step further than the Taxpayers’ Union, and believes that an unreserved apology does not cut it, concluding that the Auditor-General's 'head is on the block'. 

Many audit failures internationally have led to large payouts by audit companies and their insurers to shareholders. Here, the tab was left with Kaipara ratepayers. The report does not address what we think the issue is: redress for the Kaipara ratepayers who paid the bill.

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Seven Sharp on Transpower's $1.2million cafe/reception

Our Executive Director joined Seven Sharp's Heather du Plessis-Allan to check out taxpayer owned company, Transpowers' new $1.2million cafe on The Terrace, Wellington.  Click the image below for video on demand.

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Waste Watch: Transpower spend $1.2million on a cafe and reception

What's the difference between a 'cafe-style space' and a cafe?

Not a lot, but according to the government-owned monopoly Transpower, a $1.2million 'cafe-style space' is value for money unlike asking staff to visit the dozen cafes within a few hundred metres of its Wellington office building.

In 2012, the taxpayer owned company spent $1.2million refurbishing its reception and building "The Wire" a place where, according to Transpower CEO Patrick Strange, "we can engage and collaborate with each other, and with our guests."

Back in September, a Taxpayer's Union volunteer asked about the new cafe Transpower had built at 96 The Terrace, Wellington. It seems that calling it a "cafe" caused some offence. Transpower said (even bolding the text to emphasis the point):

The space on the ground level of Transpower House is not a café – it is a space for Transpower staff to meet internally and with our key stakeholders. 

We were told that the combined cost of the cafe space and adjacent reception area was $1.2million.

Unfortunately, Transpower would not initially tell us how long its lease for the building had remaining. After some haggling, we learned that the current lease expires in 2014.

Is $1.2million on a cafe and reception value for money?

According to Patrick Strange, yes. It turns out it's coffee that keeps the nations lights on. He told us that it had changed the "whole culture of the organisation" and that the decision to build the cafe was the "best decision" he'd ever made.

Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck...

Let's call a spade a spade. It is ridiculous for Transpower to justify this amount. The cost works out at around $65,000 per month for the time left on the lease of 96 The Terrace. This is a taxpayer-owned, state monopoly that has thrown money into building an exclusive cafe in the middle of Wellington's CBD. This is while at the same time, it is borrowing more, appealing a Commerce Commission decision with the hope it can charge more.

Click "continue reading" for more information.

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