The Tax Reform Commission's Ad Hoc Tax Cuts are A Sham
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 30, 2008
The Executive Yuan Tax Reform Commission will meet this Thursday for the second time. Reportedly, it will propose a variety of tax cuts. These tax cuts would go into effect once the Statute for Upgrading Industries has been sunsetted. Treasury officials said these programs will be submitted to the Tax Reform Commission no later than the end of the year.
What's baffling is that even after the Statute for Upgrading Industries is sunsetted, no consensus will exist regarding which items, such as research and innovation, will remain tax exempt. This makes it difficult to estimate how much tax revenues will increase once the Statute for Upgrading Industries is sunsetted. Since the revenue forecast is uncertain, how can one estimate how much to cut taxes? Even assuming one ends up with a surplus after the Statute for Upgrading Industries is sunsetted, why is it being used to cut inheritance taxes and business taxes? Why not cut stock transaction taxes and business taxes? How do Treasury officials know that these changes will be submitted to the Tax Reform Commission "no later than the end of the year?" The Ministry of Finance announced the Tax Reform Commission's direction and timetable for the next half-year even before the Tax Reform Commission had time to hold its first formal meeting. No wonder the private sector Tax Reform Union says the Tax Reform Commission is a sham.
Actually, when Premier Liu Chao-hsuan had breakfast with business tycoons last Wednesday, he had already announced a number of Tax Reform Commission "conclusions." Premier Liu said that cutting inheritance taxes and business taxes was the government's intention and the government's policy. The relevant tax cuts would be confirmed within three to six months. Premier Liu even said, "The Tax Reform Commission's conclusions will not disappoint." The Premier's statement of course came from the Ministry of Finance's chief of staff. How did the Ministry of Finance know in advance what the Tax Reform Commission's conclusions would be, whether they would disappoint, and how soon they would arrive at a conclusion? The public's views on tax reform are diametrically opposed to the government's. Some people propose cutting business taxes and inheritance taxes. Others propose keeping them the same. Given the government's tax goals, tax reform is essentially a zero-sum game. One person's gain is another person's loss. If the intent of tax reform is to ensure that the captains of industry and commerce are happy, then the private sector Tax Reform Union will inevitably be disappointed. The conclusions of the Tax Reform Commission's future meetings, were announced in advance, by the Executive Yuan. They were not discussed by the Tax Reform Commission. The Executive Yuan did not talk to Tax Reform Commission consultants. Tax Reform Commission consultants were not asked their opinion. These commission members and consultants have all been silenced. Doesn't this prove the meeting was a sham?
The Ministry of Finance predicted that the Tax Reform Commission would cut business taxes and inheritance taxes. It also knew in advance that stock transaction taxes would not be on the agenda. An appropriate cut in capital gains tax, along with a cut in stock transaction tax would be enormously helpful to small investors. It would only have had a minor impact on wealthy investors. Besides, the capital gains tax may help wealthy businessmen avoid taxes, and is also to blame for the current, unequal tax burden. Yet TSMC CEO Morris Chang has yet again proposed imposing a capital gains tax. The Ministry of Finance however, says that is not part of its plans. The Executive Yuan also has no response. Why does the Executive Yuan respond warmly to some demands put forth by industry and trade leaders, but stonewall when it comes to others? A breakfast meeting with industry and trade leaders, making so many conflicting demands, miraculously settled a whole range of tax reform issues. Doesn't this prove the meeting was a sham?
Last Thursday the entire cabinet went up Yangminshan to undergo group training. Premier Liu said that henceforth the Executive Yuan would function normally. It would stop running around attempting to put out fires. We agree with his thinking. Tax policy and tax planning should be handled in just such a manner. Although different taxes are subject to different laws and regulations, they are inextricably linked. They must not be dealt with piecemeal, one at a time. Property taxes in particular, require normalcy and a strategic plan. They must not be dealt with on an ad hoc basis. If the Ministry of Finance and the Tax Reform Commission are serious about carrying out Premier Liu's plans, they must first abandon their piecemeal approach to tax reform. They should not rush to introduce piecemeal tax reform at a news conference or a breakfast with trade and industry leaders. In fact, one of the original reasons for establishing a Tax Reform Commission was to stop making piecemeal reforms and draw up comprehensive plans. Once the Tax Reform Commission has been established, the Executive Yuan or the Ministry of Finance, when confronted by conflicting demands, need only say "All these issues are being deliberated" and "A comprehensive solution will be announced next summer." It should not panic every time someone complains, leaving itself a nervous wreck.
Tax Reform Commission members have been made officials of every economics and finance related cabinet. Many former ministers experienced in tax policy, industry and trade leaders, and elected officials meanwhile, have been relegated to the status of advisors. Three oddly titled "Highest Advisors," with limited authority have been named. A bloated commission, with over 40 legislators, wealthy businessmen, scholars, ministers, spokespersons for disadvantaged groups, will be given to sharp differences in views. The Ministry of Finance is continuing its guerrilla attacks. The private sector Tax Reform Union and members of the public have blasted the Tax Reform Commission. They consider the commission a sham. We do not want to be pessimistic. But when we consider the Executive Yuan and the Ministry of Finance's recent statements and the organization's redundant nature, we can't help worrying about its future.
令人困惑的是，促產條例落日之後究竟還有哪些免稅項目（例如研發創新）保留，賦改會都還沒共識，當然也就難以估算會因促產落日而增加多少稅收。既然稅收預 估不確定，又要如何估算降稅的幅度呢？就算促產條例落日多出來一筆稅收，又為什麼是用來降遺贈稅與營所稅？為什麼不是用來降證交稅、營業稅？財政部官員又 如何知道這些變動方向「最慢年底」會由賦改會通過呢？財政部在賦改會正式開會做第一次討論前，就事先宣布賦改會半年後的改革方向與時間表，也難怪民間稅改 聯盟要批評：賦改會是玩假的。
其實，在上周三行政院長劉兆玄與工商鉅子早餐會時，就已經宣示了若干賦改會的「結論」。劉院長指出，遺贈 稅、營所稅往下調，是政府的方向也是政策，若干調稅案三至六個月就會確定。劉院長甚至表示：「賦改會的結論，不會讓你們失望。」行政院長的發言，當然是來 自財政部的幕僚。奇怪的是，賦改會的結論如何、會不會令人失望、多久之後會做成結論，財政部何以事前預知？民間目前對稅改的意見南轅北轍，有人主張降營所 稅與遺贈稅，也有人主張不降。在給定的國家稅收目標下，稅目稅率的改革幾乎像是一個零和賽局─有人高興就有人失望。如果稅改的方向是保證讓工商大老闆高 興，那就一定會讓民間稅改聯盟失望。賦改會未來開會的結論，行政院先行宣布，沒有經委員會討論、沒有諮議該會諮議委員、沒有詢問該會顧問，這些委員與顧問 卻人人噤聲，這像不像是玩假的？
財政部不但能預知調降營所稅與遺贈稅的賦改會結論，也事前對資本利得稅表示並非規畫議題。開徵資本利得 稅如果與適當的免稅額搭配，並同時減降證交稅，那麼對於大多數散戶投資人而言，都絕對是利多，只對於富人大戶有影響。此外，資本利得稅徒然造成富商巨賈方 便的避稅管道，也是當前租稅負擔不均的罪魁禍首。但是，在台積電張忠謀再次主張課徵資本利得稅之後，財政部卻表示這不在規畫之中，而行政院長對此也沒有任 何回應。我們不了解，為什麼工商大老的某些要求，行政院就熱情回應，而其他要求就冷凍處理？如果一次工商早餐會冷熱之間就搞定了這麼多稅改議題，這像不像 是玩假的？
在上周四行政院全體閣員上山「集訓」之前，劉院長表示他以後要打正規戰，不要再陷在游擊戰的泥淖之中；我們非常同意這樣的布 局與思考。就稅制稅政的規畫而言，它是最適合正規作戰的。租稅稅目雖然雜列在不同的法規之中，但彼此之間牽一髮而動全身，不宜片面地、切割地宣布。租稅變 動更要有正規軍的全面戰略觀念，而不可沉溺於局部的叢林戰役。如果財政部與賦改會要認真執行、貫徹劉院長的正規軍作戰計畫，就該率先拋棄切割式變動稅目稅 率的思考，不要急著在一次次記者會或工商大老餐敘時，推出零碎的稅改議題。其實，成立賦改會的原始目的之一，就是要暫停各方片斷支節的降稅要求，而做全面 的規畫。在賦改會成立後，行政院或財政部面對外界需索，就只能說「一切都在整體研議」、「明年夏天會推出整套方案」等說明，而不該如響斯應、東叩西鳴，自 亂陣腳。
賦改會的委員會納入了所有的財經閣員，卻把許多租稅資歷豐富的歷任部長、工商大老、民意代表列為諮詢委員。在委員之外，又加上 了三位名稱怪異、功能有限的「最高顧問」。這麼一個四十餘人的龐大會議，裡面有立委、富商、學者、部長、弱勢代表，陣容龐大臃腫。賦改會內意見差異尖銳， 外則由財政部不斷事先宣告游擊戰戰場。民間稅改聯盟和輿論最近一直在批評賦改會，認為這個會是玩假的。我們不想做這樣悲觀的推論，但是看看行政院與財政部 最近的發言，再端詳該會疊床架屋的組織設計，我們真的開始憂慮這個委員會未來的走向。