No one really thinks we should abolish all taxes. After all, how would governments fund important public services that form the foundation of our economy? Think of services like protecting property, building infrastructure, upholding the legal system, to name a few.
The real debate is about the amount of taxes that governments extract from us given the services we get in return. Are we paying too much, too little, or just the right amount? In other words, are we getting good value for our tax dollars?
That's up to you to decide.
But to make an informed assessment, you must have a complete understanding of all the taxes you pay. Unfortunately, it's not so straightforward because the different levels of government levy such a wide range of taxes -- some visible, many hidden. This includes everything from income taxes, payroll taxes, health taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, vehicle taxes, profit taxes, import taxes, to "sin" taxes on liquor and tobacco, and much more.
The Fraser Institute's annual Tax Freedom Day calculation is a handy measure of the total tax burden imposed on Canadian families by the federal, provincial, and local governments. If you had to pay all your taxes up front, you'd give government each and every dollar you earned before Tax Freedom Day. The later the Tax Freedom Day, the heavier the tax burden.
This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on June 9 for the average Canadian family (with two or more people). It's only from that day on that you start working for yourself and family instead of the government.
In 2014, we estimate the average family will pay $43,435 in total taxes. That works out to 43.5 per cent of annual income, which, on the calendar, translates into Tax Freedom Day falling on June 9.
Is 43.5 per cent of your family's income too high a tax burden? Is working almost half of the year to pay for government reasonable given the current mix of government programs and services? These are questions we don't purport to answer here.
But it makes you think. Are governments currently doing too much? Can they do what they do now, but more efficiently and with fewer tax dollars? Are your tax dollars better directed by you and your family, be it for spending, saving, or paying down household debt?
Yet, with 43.5 per cent of our income going to taxes, it still isn't enough to pay for what our governments do.
This year, the federal government and seven provincial governments are planning deficits totaling $18.8 billion. When governments spend beyond their means, they borrow, incurring deficits, which are essentially deferred taxes.
According to our calculations, Tax Freedom Day would come five days later this year, on June 14, if Canadian governments covered their current spending with even greater tax increases instead of borrowing to cover the shortfall. If that happened, the percentage of income going to taxes would jump to 44.8 per cent.
In the end, it's up to you and your family to decide whether you're getting good bang for your tax dollars. But we all need a complete understanding of the total tax bill to make an informed assessment. And therein lies the value of our Tax Freedom Day calculation.
So, are you happy with working until June 9 to pay for government?
This piece was co-written by Milagros Palacios, Senior Research Economist, Fraser Institute.