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Kouts stays in the black, homeowners get a flat white

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The average homeowner will save roughly the amount of a small cup of coffee on their next Emergency Services Levy bill – but Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis hasn’t ruled out adding an artificial sweetener.

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Koutsantonis today revealed the quantum of his contentious land tax, which is funnelled directly to fund the state’s emergency services.

The tax take will effectively flatline in 2017-18, with $293.5 million to be raised through the ESL in total – representing a decrease of around 1.1 per cent for a median metropolitan property.

The Treasurer said for the owner of a median-priced property of $443,000 this would equate to “about $3”.

The property and welfare sectors recently demanded an ESL reduction after a summer without any major bushfires – with recent ESL increases pinned on extra demand for resources created by events such as the Pinery blaze.

The ESL has become a political liability since Koutsantonis abolished a $90 million annual remission on ESL bills in a bid to shore up general revenue – a response to the Federal Government’s budget bid to cut promised health and education allocations.

However, the Treasurer didn’t buy into whether taxpayers would appreciate the small change on offer today – just short of the cost of a small coffee – after $10 million raised, but not spent, in the last year was returned to the ESL fund.

“I don’t equate it in that terms,” he said.

“I equate it in terms of raising the dollars required to fund our emergency services.”

The Opposition has pledged to restore $360 million in ESL remissions over four years – a pledge which this week saw frontbencher Peter Malinauskas claim on ABC Radio the Liberals would cut emergency services funding.

That’s despite the same remission having been in place throughout the life of the Labor Government until 2015 – with no corresponding emergency services shortfall.

But Koutsantonis wasn’t backing away from the claim today, saying: “We have to assume that, if they’re not telling us which services they’re going to cut.”

“If you want a return on remissions you need to account for how you’re going to pay for it,” he said.

This drew a sharp response from Liberal leader Steven Marshall, who called it “pathetic scaremongering”.

“The Liberal Party plans to return $360 million to the economy, and that’s the relief we need the grow the economy,” he said, describing the $3 windfall as “a joke [and] an insult to families who are struggling in SA”.

He insisted the Liberals’ plan would be fully costed in the context of their broader election commitments.

“It will be fully-funded, fully-costed and incorporated into our complete costing document, which will be independently audited and go to the people of SA [before the election],” he told InDaily.

But while attacking the Liberals’ remission plan, Koutsantonis wouldn’t rule out broadening his own existing ESL concessions in next month’s state budget, as the Government continues to cop political heat over the controversial tax grab.

Asked whether he would consider such a move in his final budget before the March election, he said: “Currently pensioners and concession card holders are exempt, and if you live in a regional community you get a discount [so] there are dramatic discounts.”

“The system is a fair one that taxes on the basis of people’s ability to pay… thus far, it’s a good, fair, equitable tax.”

Pressed on whether that meant he would rule out broadening concessions, he said: “I don’t play that game… I don’t rule anything in or out.”

Property Council SA executive director Daniel Gannon lamented “a missed opportunity for the State Government to provide genuine relief to over-taxed property owners”.

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