The reason Grant Robertson is 'pretty careful' about offering tax cuts during coronavirus pandemic

The Finance Minister still isn't ruling out tax cuts to help ease the economic impacts of COVID-19, but he's being "pretty careful" about making sure essential services keep running. 

"Right now we need the revenue to pay for the health system to be able to do the things we need to do with our schools and so on," Grant Robertson told The AM Show. 

"We'll look at that as we move toward that recovery phase but we've got to be pretty careful that we make sure we've got the resources to provide the services that New Zealanders need."

The Government's COVID-19 economic support package unveiled on Tuesday is worth $12.1 billion, almost half of which covers immediate wage subsidies for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

It also includes $2.8 billion in business tax changes. 

The provisional tax threshold has been lifted from $2500 to $5000, meaning provisional taxpayers - people who earn income other than a salary, such as business owners - will have some relief. 

At the moment, business owners have to pay provisional tax if the company's tax liability was more than $2500 at the end of the year from the company's last return. 

Here's what the change means: If you're a small business owner in the tourism sector, your provisional tax might have been say $8000 in the 2019-2020 income year, but because of the travel impacts of COVID-19, your company's tax liability is expected to be half of that amount. 

The change in threshold from $2500 to $5000 means that your company will not be a provisional taxpayer for the 2020-2021 income year, meaning you get to save more money to put into keeping your business running. 

The Government has also given the Commissioner of Inland Revenue the power to waive interest on late tax payments for taxpayers who have had their ability to pay their tax on time "significantly adversely affected" by COVID-19. 

Here's how it would work: Café owner John Smith has experienced a sharp decline in his company's turnover as people are avoiding public spaces over concerns about COVID-19 being spread. 

Smith is unable to pay an upcoming tax bill because turnover is about half of what it was a year ago, and he's tried to get an extension to the business overdraft from the bank, but has been unsuccessful. 

Inland Revenue is able to help Smith out by working through options, such as entering into an instalment arrangement to pay off the tax bill over the next six months, or write off any interest on this debt. 

So, the Government hasn't provided blanket tax cuts in the package but tax changes aimed at helping to take the pressure off businesses, to coincide with wage subsidies and sick leave support (more details here). 

"In the announcements yesterday we tried to put a bit of both in and get the balance right of immediate measures to support people and beginning to position ourselves for that recovery," Robertson told The AM Show. 

Opposition leader Simon Bridges told The AM Show that while there are some "really good" aspects of the economic package, he's not pleased about the $150,000 cap on how much money an employer can receive in wage subsidies.

"If you are a business of over 20, not a small business, effectively you are not covered per employee, and I am talking with quite a number of businesses who will start laying off quite aggressively pretty soon."

The Government is still working on a pan to help those larger businesses, and Robertson has pointed out that the Government simply cannot buffer every single business. 

Robertson's press release on Tuesday noted, "Some businesses may fall outside the scope of the proposed business and employee support package... such as large or complex businesses. 

"Officials have been asked to develop options so the Government can support larger businesses that have been materially impacted by COVID-19, where other avenues for support are not available, and the businesses are commercially viable over the longer-term."

Robertson told The AM Show: "We will continually update what we're looking at. We've got the Budget coming up in May which is a great marker post for us to do the next stage of this work."

Budget 2020 will be unveiled on May 14.