Taxpayers' concerns

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-05-11 14:27
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It surely speaks volumes about China's progress on open and democratic lawmaking that more than 200,000 opinions - a record - were offered by the public on proposed revisions to the country's law on levying personal income tax.

Since the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the top legislature, publicized the amendment of the Personal Income Tax Law, the draft law has attracted more opinions from the public than all of the previous 20 laws put forward for public opinion since 2009.

Such an advancement in participative legislation can be partly credited to the increasingly wider access to the Internet and the growing awareness of it as a platform for their concerns among Chinese people.

What is also obvious is the public's growing enthusiasm for participating in legislative issues.

Nevertheless, surely the main reason for the unprecedented public response is citizens' concerns about personal tax relief, which is no longer enough to absorb the rising cost of living.

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The original proposal, submitted by the State Council, was to increase the income tax threshold from 2,000 yuan ($307.7) to 3,000 yuan per month and to reduce the number of income tax brackets. The finance minister explained to the top legislature the benefits the draft law offered wage-earners and the burden it will impose on the national coffers.

However, as a much-touted government effort to offer tax relief to Chinese wage-earners, especially from low-income households, the draft did not go down well with the nation's lawmakers, who decided that more public opinion was required.

Admittedly, a final analysis of the public's responses, which are still coming in, will not be available till the end of this month. Yet, it is not hard to guess, from some of the responses, what Chinese taxpayers think about the proposal.

Some residents in major Chinese cities have cast doubts on the calculation of living costs that the finance ministry used to justify the proposed tax relief. The official national average housing expenditure seems to account for merely a small faction of what many people actually pay to live in their homes.

Others have raised questions about the shortsightedness of the proposed tax threshold of 3,000 yuan. Official data already show that the average burden of monthly consumption expenditure for each urban worker reached 2,167 yuan last year. The double-digit rise of income levels across the country, which is expected to continue in coming years, will soon require Chinese legislators to review the law all over again.

If such concerns prove the general view among the public, lawmakers should not hesitate to make substantive changes to the draft law.