Can a 'big debate' reboot the tax review?

LET’S have a referendum on tax rises, shall we? The first inclination on reading the thoughts of Deputy Carl Meerveld is to scoff. Like we don’t already know the answer.

But deeper analysis of Deputy Meerveld’s thoughts, outlined here, does warrant some consideration, particularly if you don’t automatically accept the calculations which led the States to conceive a tax ‘ceiling’ of 24% of GDP, and create the ‘tax raising headroom’ which appears in the tax review report.

Deputy Meerveld outlines two extremes of government which aren’t actually all that extreme. The nanny state, or the nightwatchman state, a libertarian government minimising its size and interventions, which requires less tax.

It would be pretty clear that islanders don’t want, or expect, the nanny state in Guernsey. But the nightwatchman state might not be such an obvious fit. For, as a small community, we are very keen to want what we want, when we want it, while at the same time consistently arguing for smaller and cheaper government. Politicians tell us we’ve already got relatively small and relatively cheap government, and outline the island’s concerning demographic position if we choose to dissent. Which is the current problem in denying the new proposed tax increases – irrespective of right-sizing government, demographics are a cause for concern that simply cannot be ducked.

Deputy Meerveld’s in the mood to dissent – he says he’ll vote the whole tax review down in a bid to pursue his referendum, but also says he is ducking nothing in being prepared to pursue other options.

He wants the public to effectively start government again – to decide what we want, and then accept how to pay for it through taxes. But are his fellow deputies in the mood for an extreme version of zero-based budgeting?

The tax review has already smoothed out one self-induced wobble, but it’s clear from the surge in promotional activity around it that government is concerned at lack of engagement from the public and, critically, deputies.

Deputy Meerveld’s ‘big debate’ might just have racheted up interest levels.

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