The Anatomy of a Middle Class Shakedown: Quebec Budget

In my last post on the Quebec budget I focussed in the regressiveness of the of the 2010-1011 budget vis-a-vis working poor families. There it was demonstrated that the budget was regressive in that some working poor families and individuals would actually face an increase in their taxes even after the Orwellian named Quebec Solidarity Tax Credit (QSTC) was taken into account. Today I want to focus on the regressive nature of the budget as it applies to the middle class.

One of the striking things about the tax increases in the last budget is the degree to which (for those families above a minimum wage income) the budget is progressive to the 60,000$. It is progressive in the sense that as income increases so too does the percentage of new taxes as a share of income. However, after 60,000 the new taxes go regressive with those earning above 60,000 paying a smaller amount of taxes as a share of their income. As the graph clearly shows, a family of four with an income of 60,000 will pay almost 1% more tax as a share of their income whereas a family with an income of 125,000 will pay 0.6% more tax as a share of their income.

The reason for this is explained by three factors. First almost all the taxes announced were regressive, that is, individuals pay the same rate regardless of income. Second, the 200$ health premium is not phased in. Third, nor is there a smooth phase out of progressive tax credits and transfers. The result is, well, the graph below.

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(Click on image to enlarge)

For single individuals the situation is even more weird. As the graph below illustrates the budget re-enforces what can only be described as an economic basket case when it comes to taxing single individuals in Quebec. Between 10,000 and 15,000, thanks to the QSTC the budget is progressive. But because of its ham fisted implementation and the three points outlined above the taxes are regressive from 15,000 to 40,000. The result is that those earning 40,000 will pay less taxes as a share of their income than someone making less than minimum wage! Then the trend goes progressive between 40 and 50,000. At which point the tax trend goes permanently regressive with someone making 125,000 a year paying a lower percent of the new taxes as a share of income than someone making 50,000.

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This budget is what many economists have called an adult budget and an efficient budget. Professionals in illegal lines would probably characterise this budget as an efficient shakedown.

As is by now well known one of the stories of globalisation is a polarizing of income with those in the top of the income distribution pulling away from the middle class. In turn, the top half of the middle class has been doing quite well (a post on that later) while the bottom half of the middle class has been subjected to stagnant or decreasing incomes. What this budget does is reinforce the in-egalitarian distribution of market incomes.

To be clear the plaint here is not that raising taxes is necessarily a bad thing: quality public services cost money. The question here is over the distribution of the tax burden. By refusing to use the progressive income tax system and instead rely on a hodge-podge of user fees and consumption taxes the government has chosen to let those towards the top of the income distribution shoulder a smaller percent of the burden.

This is tax regression in action, and if not checked it will likely become an important aspect of the story of how Quebec became much less equal place live. For the economists who lauded the budget, most of which it should be mentioned earn over $75,000 a year, I suppose this is just the price of efficiency.
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Note: data is taken from budget tables 36 and 38. Impacts were estimated using budget methodology for individuals at 15,000 and families at the 31,000 levels. A hydro increase of 58$ was added to the tax increases. The budget numbers do not include the proposed 25$ per medical visit fee.

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4 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Middle Class Shakedown: Quebec Budget

  1. In table 2, re. single workers, you might also want to highlight the data points indicating the taxation of a worker earning $125 000 at the same level or higher as that of someone earning $15 000, perhaps a light broken line leading from one to the other ( – – – -)?

  2. Imagine what it would like if a couple of visits to the doctor @ 25$ was included. Graphs are always a compromise between the amount of information and the clarity of presentation. I had put in some lines at various levels but in the end I did not like how it looked.

  3. I figured clarity was the reason. And anyone who’s found their way here is prob the type to look left to right and get the connection. Maybe one elegant way to make the point more explicit would be to simply make those two data points bigger-brighter (red?).

    PS. I never imagined I’d be leaving comments on blogs about aesthetics of econ graphs. I am lame. But you know why, they are powerful images, and need to be as strong as possible to cut through BS.

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