Where deepest cuts and tax hikes will hit hardest
While leaks about the contents of today’s budget were contained compared with last year, the shape of the €3.5 billion in adjustments have emerged in the past few weeks, especially last weekend when the Government signed off on most of the big-ticket items.
Almost €1 billion in new taxes will have to be raised, as there is €250 million of the full-year effect of measures from last year’s budget.
A bulwark of this will be property tax. It will be levied at 0.18 per cent of the value of the property. The late decision to add a so-called mansion tax on houses worth more than €1 million meant the rate reduced from 0.2 per cent.
This measure was introduced as a quid pro quo to Labour following Fine Gael’s rejection of a 3 per cent hike in the USC rate for PAYE employees earning more than €100,000. It is mostly symbolic as the proportion of houses worth over €1 million is tiny.
The property tax could generate €250 million in revenue during the six months it operates in 2013.
Another big change in the offing that has not attracted the same publicity is the scrapping of the €127 exemption from PRSI for all those earning over €352 a week. That will cost each taxpayer some €261 per annum and will yield more than €300 million to the exchequer in a full year.
It could prove controversial as it will affect lower income groups proportionately harder. Other PRSI changes will be extended to unearned income, such as rental and share income. That could bring in up to €80 million in additional revenues.
This Government has rowed back on the previous administration’s commitment to reducing tax relief on private pension contributions from 41 per cent to the standard 20 per cent, but has instead targeted a maximum annual pension of €60,000.
The group in society least affected in recent budgets has been pensioners. There may be some changes to the more generous tax exemptions available to over-65s, as well as the lower rate of the top USC band available to over-70s with income of €16,000 or more.
However, the wholesale changes floated two months ago will not now materialise but the gap will be closed. At present, a person over 70 with an income of €40,000 pays €3,500 less tax than someone under 65 on the same income.
Universal social charge
The pressure from Labour to have the USC rate for PAYE workers earning over €100,000 increased by 3 points to 10 per cent has come to nought. Fine Gael never bought the Labour arguments and its Ministers dug their heels in, demanding a comparable cut of 3 per cent in social welfare rates.
That was never going to happen.
The likely increase in motor tax and vehicle registration tax is a steep 15 per cent with low- emission cars no longer enjoying an advantage. A combination of people buying CO2-efficient cars and a collapse in new car sales has meant the State’s take fell from €1.4 billion in 2007 to €387 million in 2011, with strong indications of further sharp drops in 2012.
Tobacco and alcohol
The old reliables also face increases. There is a Government commitment to deal with the sale of cheap alcohol in off- licences, although sharp hikes might lead to renewed cross-Border purchases of alcohol and tobacco.
A 50 cent increase for a packet of cigarettes would be worth €81 million to the exchequer. A 20 cent increase in excise duties on beer and spirits and a 50 cent jump in excise on wine would garner €156 million in additional revenues in 2013.
There is also likely to be an increase in carbon tax, although it may not be as high as the €5 per tonne mooted. If that happened, it would yield €108 million.
No supertax on bank pensions
There will be no supertax on the extravagant pensions of former top bankers. Government sources said the strong legal advice was that a specific group could not be singled out in that manner.
A more general targeting of high-income pensioners – both in the private and public sector – may be announced.
The good news is that over the past few days, the department’s very onerous target of €540 million has been reduced by €150 million to €390 million, making the kind of savage cuts that seemed in prospect a month ago seem less remote.
The €10 cut per child in child benefit will not be popular with backbench TDs from either Government party but has been inevitable for many months. That will yield about €140 million to the exchequer.
Statutory sick pay
Another controversial proposal being refloated by the department is for employers to pay the first four weeks of statutory sick pay, for which the State is on the hook at present. However, what will be announced today will apply only to the public sector. The individual department or body will be responsible for paying their own sick pay.
While that will reduce the cost to the Department of Social Protection, it will be revenue neutral as the State will still foot the bill. The Government will not apply the move to the private sector, to the relief of Fine Gael TDs.
Employers rebate for redundancy
Employers will no longer get State support for funding redundancy packages.This will save the State €25 million.
Household package, free travel, TV licence
Secondary allowances for pensioners will be tightened. Telephone allowances will be halved. There will be some adjustments to gas and electricity allowances. However, free travel, fuel allowance and television licences will all be unaffected.
School clothing allowances
Expected to be cut from €150 to €100 for primary school pupils and from €250 to €200 for secondary school pupils.
Because of overruns, the total cut for health will be €930 million. However, the target has been reduced by €150 million to about €780 million as the Government has found savings elsewhere.
Health staff and rising charges Savings include trimming back of agency staff, cuts in over-time, new terms for consultants, increases in charges for providing public hospital facilities – including beds and AE services – to private patients, and further reductions in drug pricing. A hike in the 50c prescription charge is also on the cards.
The income thresholds for medical cards for pensioners will be reduced substantially from €36,000 to €30,000 for a single person and from €72,000 to €60,000 for a couple. Those who fall outside the limit will be entitled to a GP-only medical card.
Cuts will be €80 million. A big part of this will come from increasing the pupil-teacher ration from 21-1 to perhaps 23-1. There will also be rises in student fees as well cuts in allowances for Gaeltacht and Irish-speaking duties.
There may also be some additional cuts to the €90 million budget for private schools.