Water meters and all that
This post was written by Richard Tol
Ireland is not Greece. Ireland, for instance, does not have a problem with tax collection. Or does it? There clearly is a problem with collecting the household charge. To my mind, the core issue is that the Department of the Environment — which has limited experience with indirect taxation and none with direct taxation — tries to do something for which it was not set-up to do — and refused to call in the experts. Like all departments, Dept Env was already stretched because of the austerity programme.
The household charge is flat: 100 euro per residence. It is easy to determine who should pay. Is it a residence? Are you the owner? If yes and yes, you should pay 100 euro.
The household charge should, at some point in the future, morph into a property tax. There are two key differences. The property tax will be differentiated: More valuable properties would be taxed more. And the property tax will be much higher than the household charge: somewhere between 500 and 1000 euro per household on average.
If Dept Env struggles with something so simple as a low household charge, how will it cope with a more complicated and much higher property tax?
The next episode of the saga re-emerged in the news today: Water meters (1, 2, 3). Households will / will not pay for the installation of water meters. If so, payments will be up front / distributed over the years. If not, the Dept of Finance / National Pension Reserve Fund will make up the difference, perhaps as a soft / commercial loan to Dept Env / households. Installation will cost at most 300 euro per meter / at least 300 euro per meter / not yet known.
The semi-state that is to implement water meters, Irish Water, was supposed to start in early January. It is now mid April and plans are not yet definite. It is not even known whether Irish Water will be an independent entity or a subsidiary to Bord Gais or Bord an Mona. The National Roads Authority is apparently no longer in the running, and private companies (Veolia, Tesco) were never considered. As perhaps 4,000 county council staff may be transferred to Irish Water, it may want to recruit from the HSE to draw on their expertise in forging a national entity out of disparate regional ones.
This matters. Water meters are part of the ECB/EU/IMF agreement and the Water Framework Directive. As long as there is no Irish Water, Dept Env will fulfill its duties in the interim — duties that are beyond its actual remit. I worried about that in January. This piece has an intriguing remark at the end. Apparently, at least one county council is rushing through decisions, preempting the presumably stricter regulatory regime expected under Irish Water and the Commission for Energy (and Water) Regulation.
As I have argued before, there is an advantage to electing competent managers (rather than school teachers) to the Dail, as TDs may become ministers in charge of sprawling bureaucracies. Of course, it would help if the higher echelons of the civil service would have similar competencies.