From the way the budget blows out debt and deficit, it may seem that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have stopped caring how much they rack up, but it ain’t so. This budget is just a one-year plan, which not only brings the handouts to an early stop, but then starts reeling much of the money back in.
This budget is like a fold-up bike you can put back in the boot after you’ve finished with it. Technically, its design is clever. But I fear it’s too clever by half.
If it turns out Morrison has turned off the budgetary stimulus too soon – as many business economists fear – he won’t have got the economy growing strongly enough and unemployment falling far enough.
His decision to turn the stimulus off so early – and to choose his budget measures based more on political correctness than job-creating effectiveness – may prove a great error of political (as well as economic) judgment as the election approaches in late next year or early 2022.
But let’s unfold Frydenberg’s one-year, fold-away budget. First, the two initial, big-ticket stimulus measures – the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme and the temporary JobSeeker unemployment benefit supplement – have already been scaled back and their termination dates set.
The $17-billion dole supplement will end in December (with almost every dollar saved coming out of retailers’ cash registers) and JobKeeper will end in March, after a total cost of $101 billion.
First among the budget’s new measures is the immediate write-off for tax purposes of businesses’ capital equipment purchases. It will apply to new assets from now until June 2022, at a cost to revenue of $31 billion over the three years to June 2023.
But because this measure simply allows firms to deduct the cost of new equipment earlier than would otherwise apply, by the fourth year, 2023-24, firms are expected to be paying in excess of $4 billion more tax than they otherwise would have in that year.
Buried deep in the budget’s fine print you discover that what costs the revenue $31 billion in the first three years, ends up costing only a net $3 billion “over the medium term”.
Similarly, while the measure allowing companies (but not unincorporated firms) to carry back losses incurred in the three financial years to June 2022 for tax purposes will cost the revenue more than $5 billion in its first two years, by 2023-24 it will begin reeling the money back in. The net cost over the medium term is expected to be less than $4 billion.
Get it? Though the huge early cost of these measures, combined with the miniscule number of new jobs they are expected to create, makes them look like a giant handout to the government’s business supporters, in truth all they involve is a temporary improvement in businesses’ cash flows, as opposed to their profits.
Next, note that, though the JobMaker wage subsidy “hiring credit” has a cost of $4 billion over three years (with almost three-quarters of that hitting the budget next financial year), the scheme will be open only until October 7, 2021. The further cost to the budget after June 2022 will be minimal.
Finally, remember that the tax cut comes in two bits: the continuing tax cuts for people earning more than $90,000 a year, plus the temporary cost of the one-year extension of the misleadingly named “low and middle income tax offset” aimed mainly at above-median tax-filers on $48,000 to $90,000.
Because the cash benefit of the temporary tax offset is delivered retrospectively, the two-year draw-forward of stage two (as opposed to its continuing cost from July 2022 on) will cost the budget about $7 billion this financial year and about $17 billion next year but – get this – add to revenue by almost $6 billion in 2022-23.
By then, much of this year’s budget will have been folded away.
Now you see why, after blowing out to $85 billion last financial year and an expected $213 billion this year, the budget deficit is expected almost to halve to $112 billion next year, and fall to $88 billion in 2022-23. (After that, the rate of improvement tapers off, with the deficit projected to take seven years to fall from 3 per cent of gross domestic product to 1.6 per cent.)
Question is, will the economy be able to keep up with this contraction in the budget? At present, the $101-billion JobKeeper is supporting 3.5 million workers – a quarter of all workers. It will end in March, to be replaced by the $4-billion JobMaker scheme for young workers. Doesn’t seem enough.
Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.
Source: Thanks smh.com