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Mr Taxman (still) not picking up the phone

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders still can't get through to the IRD, according to new figures which show only a slight improvement in the numbers of callers being rejected by IRD due to under-staffing. In the space of a month, almost 170,000 callers have not even made the hold tone, making up 31% of callers who called IRD in the space of a month. The data comes after the Taxpayers' Union revealed last month that 55% of callers to IRD were being rejected over a 3-day period.

"These numbers come off the back of the IRD announcing that it will cut its staff force by about 1500 in the coming years," says Researcher Matthew Rhodes. "How are these cuts justified when there is not even enough staff around to pick up the phone?"

"A significant increase on the number of forecasted calls has meant that IRD have had to ‘cap’ 31% of calls coming in. When IRD say they 'cap' calls, what they actually mean is hanging up on customers before they even make it to the hold music."

"Either there is something wrong with the forecasting procedure, or staffing levels are simply not adequate to meet the demand. What’s equally as concerning is 73% of the calls being rejected are enquiries relating to personal tax – the very people who need the most help when it comes to tax time. Paying tax is bad enough but having to wait hours on the phone only to be hung-up on, is a slap in the face by the taxman."

"These figures also show that it's not just at peak tax time that the phones are going unanswered - the problem is rife."

See IRD's OIA response below: 

Bribe-O-Meter update (week 3)

Bribe-O-Meter week 3: All minor parties added, NZ First spending in excess of $22.5b

bribe-o-meter-logo.pngIn this weeks update, all parties currently in Parliament have been added to the Taxpayers’ Union Bribe-O-Meter, which tracks the costs of election policies as they are announced.

To date, NZ First has the most expensive set of policies, totalling $22.5 billion in new spending over the next three years. This is equivalent to $13,024 per household. 

It should be noted that this is a conservative estimate and likely understates the true cost of the NZ First manifesto. A significant amount of NZ First policies are yet to be included because they lack sufficient detail.

ACT are the only party that will reduce Government spending, by eliminating $3.4 billion of corporate welfare and reversing the welfare increases announced in Budget 2017. ACT will save taxpayers $5.35b over the next three years – or $3,103 per household. 

United Future has promised $4.7b in new spending, or $2,737 per household. This comprises an estimated $2.7 billion to build the Ngauranga Gorge Tunnel and $1.9 billion to abolish tertiary tuition fees.

The Maori Party are yet to release their election manifesto so the only policy included to date is IwiRail, which is estimated to cost $1.55b over the next parliamentary term.

There have been few changes to National, Labour and the Green Party from last week. 

NZ First have proposed a set of policies that are largely ambiguous and lack detail. $22.5 billion is by far the most expensive set of policies of any party so far. However, even this understates the true cost of the NZ First manifesto because a significant number of policies lack enough detail to be included.

Notably expensive NZ First policies include: 

  • Write-down of student debt: $4.6b per annum
  • Buy-back of Meridian, Mighty River Power and Genesis: $4.3b
  • Northland rail: $850m
  • Installing 200km of new median barriers: $443m over three years
  • Banning 1080 and undergoing pest control with solely traps: $386m over three years
  • Reintroducing a non-commercial public service television channel: $45m over three years

It is worrying that New Zealand First shows no inclination of explaining to voters how they intend to fund their policies. They promise the world without any indication of how it will be fulfilled.

As it stands, and not accounting for some crossover of policy, a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition would spend $50 billion extra over the next parliamentary term. Considering Core Crown revenue is expected to be $80 billion in 2017, this figure is material.

Next week we intend to release policy costing’s for the Opportunities Party.

Key Findings 

  • National has promised $1.4 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $814 per household.
  • Labour has promised $17.6 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $10,223 per household.
  • The Green party has promised $8.1 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $4,692 per household.
  • NZ First has promised $22.5 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $13,024 per household.
  • ACT has promised $5.4 billion in taxpayer savings over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $3,103 in savings per household.
  • United Future has promised $4.7 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $2,737 per household.
  • The Maori party has promised $1.6 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $899 per household. Although this only includes one policy (the Maori party manifesto is expected to be released this week). 

You can read detailed breakdowns of each party's policies (and the costs) here:

Click here to view the Bribe-O-Meter

Rotorua Lakes Council accepts Supreme Achievement Award for importing mud from South Korea

The Taxpayers’ Union mascot, "Porky the Waste-hater", visited Rotorua this morning, and awarded the Rotorua Mayor a “Supreme Achievement Award” for imagination and achievement in wasting public money, following the Mayor’s decision to spend $90,000 of public money to import five tonnes of mud from South Korea. The mud is to supplement the local variety at Rotorua’s ‘Mudtopia' festival later in the year.

After some waiting, Ms Chadwick failed to front (apparently she was too busy). Nevertheless, an official accepted the award on her behalf.  

The award recognises the most creative use of taxpayers’ money we have seen yet. The favourite pastime of our mascot Porky is playing in mud, but even he condemns this total waste of money.

Steve Chadwick has created New Zealand’s very own ‘coals to Newcastle’ story.  Even the BBC has covered this ridiculous and frivolous waste.

The whole reason Rotorua Lakes Council received a tourism grant from MBIE was to promote Rotorua and its mud as a destination.  Instead, these geniuses flew to Korea and used the money to buy the foreign variety.

We elect politicians to be guardians of the ratepayer and taxpayer purse.  Unfortunately, that’s clearly not happening here in Rotorua.

What makes this Council’s behaviour particularly galling is the fact that Councillors tried to defend the spending in local media by saying that it’s ‘only taxpayer’ money, since a large amount was funded from an MBIE grant. What a disgraceful attitude to the hard-working taxpayers who earned that money.

 

2017 Election Bribe-O-Meter Launched

The Taxpayers’ Union is repeating its popular election costing tool with the launch of the 2017 General Election Bribe-O-Meter to keep track of the cost of party manifestos in the lead up to polling day.

The Bribe-O-Meter provides transparency on what the promises made by political parties will cost and it holds to account politicians who make up numbers when announcing policies.

The Bribe-O-Meter is the most comprehensive independent policy costing project undertaken in New Zealand and was first launched prior to the 2014 election and was run again for the 2015 Northland by-election. 

The first release of the Bribe-O-Meter shows all current proposals by the National and Labour Party. Minor parties will be added in the next few weeks, as well as updates for any new policies by the two major parties.

To see the most up-to-date version of the Bribe-O-Meter, click here or on the image below. 

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Q&A:

What is the Bribe-O-Meter?

The Bribe-O-Meter is about transparency. We will be updating the figures weekly, allowing potential voters to assess which political parties are offering taxpayers value for money. Costs only include policies that will fall during the next election cycle (Budget 2018 to Budget 2020).

Budget 2017 is used as a baseline. So only policies that deviate from Budget 2017 are included in the Bribe-O-Meter. Items of spending contained in Budget 2017, which a party proposes to cut are subtracted from a party's total figure.

Who provides the figures for the Bribe-O-Meter?

Both internal and external economic advisors produce the Bribe-O-Meter figures. Political and communications personnel at the Taxpayers' Union are not involved in the Bribe-O-Meter reports.

How often will the Bribe-O-Meter be updated?

The Bribe-O-Meter will be updated on a weekly basis.

Are the graphics free to use?

Yes, the media are free to use the graphics, but we ask that they are attributed to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

What were results of Bribe-O-Meter in 2014?

The results can be found at http://www.taxpayers.org.nz/bribe_o_meter_2014 

NZ’s biggest companies received over $7 million of taxpayer money for power bills

The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that over $7 million of taxpayer money has been spent on the power bills of 94 of New Zealand’s largest companies since July 2014. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s (EECA) ‘large energy users programme’ provides funding to businesses, in an attempt to encourage them to reduce energy use. Of this $7 million, more than $1 million has been wasted on 'initiatives' which haven't recorded any energy savings to date.

Taxpayer money doesn’t need to be spent telling the country’s largest power users to save power. All of these companies pay millions for power, and have every interest as it is to lower their energy use.
 
As a lawyer, I used to act for an association of major electricity users. If the EECA don’t think that the corporations at the big end of town aren’t looking at how electricity costs can be saved, they are delusional.
 
This whole regime is a little bit of a rort. Electricity users are taxed so that officials can tell people to use less power, meanwhile, people rightly scratch their heads about why electricity is so expensive.

We asked how much money has been recovered from companies where taxpayers' money has been thrown at projects where the promised energy savings cannot yet be demonstrated, and it appears that not a single dollar has been recovered.
 
At best, it’s a waste of money and pointless, at worst, it is corporate welfare in an environmental jacket, paid for by kiwis who have to pay more to turn on their heater.
 
A response to our Official Information Act request shows:

    • - A total of $7,086,004 has been paid to companies since July 2014, up until the 21 March 2017 (the date of release by EECA);
    • - The largest payment was made to ANZCO Foods Limited, who had received $668k since their partnership with EECA began in 2012;
    • - Around $1.1 million of funding has been delivered to corporations who had not recorded any energy savings to date. 

See the response below:

Under the large energy users programme, the country’s largest energy users can enter into an agreement with EECA to enter co-funded projects, with up to 40% provided by EECA, which aim to reduce the company’s energy use and emissions. 

More information can be obtained on EECA’s website: https://www.eecabusiness.govt.nz/funding-and-support/support-for-large-energy-users/

Mr Taxman not picking up the phone

on-hold-call.jpgUp to 55% of calls from taxpayers are being rejected by the IRD because it does not have enough staff rostered on to answer the phones, according to data supplied to the Taxpayers' Union covering a 2-week period in May this year.

At tax time, the least the Government could do is make sure it answers the phone," says Jordan Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers' Union. "On each of the three days the IRD have had to cap the calls coming in, they didn't even answer the number of calls their own estimates said they could expect.

These problems with the phones came on top of significant downtime of the IRD's website recently.

Paying tax is bad enough but having to wait hours on the phone only to be hung-up on, is a slap in the face by the taxman.

IRD's slogan used to be 'We're here to help'.  Nowadays, you're lucky if they're even there.

Green’s Utopia: The fastest way to achieving equality is to make everybody poorer

download-4.pngThe Green Party’s attempt to increase the welfare state in their policy launched over the weekend, is not only an unnecessary burden on taxpayers but also founded on a misunderstanding of the economic realities facing New Zealand.

Firstly, the Green's claim that inequality has been increasing in New Zealand. This is quite simply not true. Two recent reports by the New Zealand Initiative and NZIER, respectively, demonstrate that inequality is unchanged in over two decades.

Secondly, the Green's policy to increase the minimum wage by $2 an hour, and eventually index it to 66% of the average wage, comes in spite of New Zealand already having the highest minimum to average wage ratio in the OECD. As it currently stands, the minimum to average wage ratio in New Zealand is approximately 0.52. This is significantly higher than other comparable countries such as Australia (0.44), the UK (0.41), Canada (0.40), and the US (0.25).

The irony is that indexing the minimum wage to the average wage may become self-fulfilling under a Green Government. Their combination of policies deters growth, innovation and productivity, as well as pours away taxpayer money. It is therefore quite possible that the average wage will fall – achieving their 66% average wage policy without even having to increase the minimum.

The Greens do not seem to grasp the concept that New Zealand can only get wealthier and increase living standards if we become more productive, innovative, and increase output. The Greens seem to think that disincentivizing the productive and rewarding the unproductive will make us better off.

The Greens are the only party to date who has proposed a tax increase, in the form of a new 40% top tax rate. Not only is this envy politics, but it is quite alarming that when the Governments books project enormous surpluses into the foreseeable future, the Greens still don’t think New Zealand taxpayers are parting with enough of their money.

 

HRC 'anti-racist' campaign funded by levy based on race

Screen_Shot_2017-07-17_at_3.46.54_PM.pngThe Taxpayers’ Union can reveal the Human Rights Commission’s recent “Give Nothing To Racism” anti-discrimination campaign has been funded by discriminatory levies payable only by international students and new migrants.

The Human Rights Commission campaign featuring advertisements of Neil Finn and Taika Waititi was funded from the Export Education Levy, a tax paid by international students enrolled in New Zealand institutions, and a separate targeted levy payable solely by migrants.

What total hypocrisy by the race relations commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy and the Human Rights Commission. On the one hand, they lecture New Zealanders how sinful it is to make the slightest jest on stereotypes based on race, but on the other are more than happy to apply for and take funding from a pool funded from a racist tax.

Taking advantage of a tax based on race is ten times worse than any of ‘casual racism’ jokes the HRC’s propaganda campaigns lecture us against

In emails to the Taxpayers' Union (in addition to the material below) Ms Devoy’s staff initially tried to argue that this area of spending shouldn’t be of interest to the Taxpayers’ Union because they claimed the foreigner's levy income isn’t 'taxpayer money’. We find that deplorable. Claiming foreign students aren’t taxpayers because they’re not New Zealanders. There’s an R-word for that attitude, and maybe her office needs to have a good look at themselves in the mirror before they get back on their usual high horse.

Don't claw the cats

download.jpgThe Dunedin Mayor’s pitch to local councils in his campaign to be elected the new president of Local Government New Zealand is nuts.
 
Despite the vast majority of ratepayers considering the move silly, Dave Cull wants to use ratepayers’ money to lobby the government to force cat owners to register their cats.  

The proposal would also see annual cat fees, cat curfews and even cat rangers to patrol the streets looking for cats off their designated property, or breaching curfew hours (yes really!).

This is the ultimate in the local government trying to find expensive solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Earlier in the month, LGNZ released its latest performance survey showing record low levels of confidence in the decision making of local government.  With the so-called ‘leaders’ of the sector too busy talking about cat rangers to focus on New Zealand’s enormous infrastructure deficit, no wonder local government is in crisis.

To sign the petition to stop this ridiculous policy click here.

Cost of Winston Peters’ ‘Carpet Policy’ $120 million

images-6.jpgNZ First has announced its ‘carpet policy’ - to line all Government offices with wool carpets.

NZ First are calling for wool carpets to be put back on the floors of government departments and state houses.

Party leader Winston Peters believes the move would revitalise New Zealand's declining wool industry and make for better building.

It's a clear bid for the rural vote, which NZ First have been chasing ever since Peters' win in Northland in 2015.

What wasn't mentioned in Mr Peters' speech is that the cost would be approximately $120 million, based on the Government Property Group’s estimate of Government floor space.

While smarter carpets for government bureaucrats may be appealing to some, in comparison to what $120 million will buy you in nurses, policeman or teachers, we’re not so sure.

In another context, $120 million is the income tax take of over 6,000 average New Zealand households. The Taxpayers’ Union questions whether taxpayers would really get $120 million of value for bureaucrats having wool carpet and a more comfortable walk around their office.

In the lead-up to the election, we would encourage all political parties to provide costings with their policy announcements. If not, the Taxpayers' Union will be here to help.

Notes:
• Using a standard price of a woollen carpet of $79 per square metre, and a floor space of 1,524,524 metres squared, the total cost is $120,437,396.
• If new carpets were only installed as part of usual replacements, the marginal cost of wool is $60 million to $93 million (in today's dollars) more than usual synthetic commercial carpets


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