I wrote a couple of posts (here and here) earlier this year about a Department of Finance release that discusses the impact of restrictions on the use of tax breaks for higher earners via the imposition of a minimum effective tax rate. I pointed out that the document is very poorly worded and leaves itself open to being misinterpreted.
Well, the latest edition of this release is out and it’s still got the same poor wording and it’s still being misinterpreted. I had missed the release when it came out but realised that the DoF’s poor wording had struck again when I heard contributors to Sam Smyth’s Sunday morning radio show discussing the report and saying how puzzled they were at how few people seemed to be earning large salaries (e.g. puzzlement at the idea that only 23 people earned over €2 million in 2008).
Let’s recap on this report. The report does not purport to be a full accounting of the tax paid by rich people in Ireland. Rather, it only covers those who would have paid less than the minimum effective tax rates that have been introduced. So, the whole report relates only to the 423 people who earned over €500,000 and were subject to the minimum effective tax restriction.
The document should emphasise throughout that these 423 people represent only a small subset of those earning over half a million euros in 2008: Unpublished information from the Revenue Commissioners published in the Irish Times last year (nice table here) showed that there were 5,393 cases of people earning over that amount. However, the report does very little to emphasise this point, leaving itself open to misinterpretation.
Sure enough, many people reading the Sunday Tribune today would have been apalled to read this piece about the Department’s “analysis of high-income earners” informing them the report showed “most of those earning more than €500,000 paid tax at a rate between 15% and 20%” and also providing other estimated tax rates that are not at all representative of the rates being paid by average high earners. For example, the figures in the Irish Times table show that the correct figure for the average tax rate paid by those earning over half a million is 32%. Remember also that this doesn’t include PRSI and that these individuals are now paying an additional 6 percent levy on income over €175,000.
I’m not saying there isn’t room to raise more tax from the rich or that tax reliefs shouldn’t be closed but it hardly helps public debate about this issue when the Department issues documents that are so easily misinterpreted.
Update: Ian Guider who wrote the piece for the Tribune linked to above has written to me to point out that the piece mentions 423 individuals and so he reckons it should be clear that all subsequent statements in his article refer only to a small subset of high earning individuals.