Monday, 19 September 2011

Spain finance chief admits odd quirk in wealth tax

 

One aspect of a plan to restore wealth tax in Spain makes no sense but there's nothing the government can do about it, the finance minister said Saturday. Elena Salgado spoke from Poland where she was attending a meeting of euro zone counterparts. The tax stems from the central, Socialist government but is collected by regional administrations. It was suspended in 2008 to stimulate growth as the global economic crisis started to bite in Spain. But the Madrid government has kept compensating regional governments for the lost revenue. Now, regions stand to get the money twice: once from high-earning taxpayers under a decree passed Friday and again from the central government because the compensation must continue under a separate law that has a higher status than a decree. Salgado said "this does not seem reasonable" but there's no way around it. "With a decree, there is nothing you can do to avoid it," she said. Her comments were the latest in a sea of confusing government statements about the wealth tax, which is levy on a person's net worth: assets minus debts. The flip-flops concerned the wealth level at which it will kick in and how much revenue it will raise. In the end, if passed by Parliament next week, the levy will apply to taxpayers' net worth above euro700,000 ($963,000), or an estimated 160,000 people, and raise euro2 billion in revenue. It is temporary, and will be in effect only in 2011 and 2012. The government says the tax is aimed at getting richer people to chip in more as Spain struggles with a 21 percent jobless rate, anemic growth and a high deficit. But it has been criticized by the conservative opposition as a populist nod to leftist voters angry over deficit-cutting austerity measures as Nov. 20 general elections approach. The ruling Socialists are projected to lose badly. Salgado's remarks seemed to contradict some made just Friday by government spokesman Jose Blanco, who said no region would get the wealth tax money twice. Salgado said Blanco really meant the same thing she did: that it seems unreasonable for regions to get the money doubly.

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