Fuel taxes keep Govt well oiled

Michael Cullen
Michael Cullen
For all the hot air about curbing greenhouse gases, the burnoff of fossil fuels to move people and goods up and down the country's roads remains big business for the Government.

Last year, the Government raised more than $2.3 billion from taxes on petrol and diesel sales and about $120 million in royalties on local oil and gas production.

It reaped just under $1.4 billion in petrol excise and $922 million in GST on petrol and diesel, said Automobile Association calculations from government sales tables.

The Ministry of Economic Development also reports a healthy increase in royalties on locally produced oil and gas, from $110 million during 2006 and 2007 to almost $127 million this financial year.

There is no excise duty on diesel, and $852 million in road user charges paid by buyers of diesel in calendar 2007 are excluded from the revenue calculation because they are returned to the national land transport account.

But despite resentment among some motorists, the tax component of petrol prices has declined proportionally with every upward lurch in world prices.

Total taxes now stand at just under 74c a litre, or about 35% of the retail price of 91 octane petrol, compared with 66.4c a year ago, when they accounted for 42%.

Duties and direct levies have remained at 50.539c on each litre of petrol sold since April last year, although the retail price per litre for 91 has soared from 155.9c to more than 210.9c at most stations.

The Government says it has been paying back more than the total value of those taxes - apart from a 7.33c accident compensation levy (soon to be increased) and other items totalling less than 1c - to the land transport account for roads, and to a lesser extent public transport.

This financial year's land transport fund of $2459 million drew $746 million from petrol excise, $818 million from road user charges, $219 million from motor registration fees and $657 million from direct Crown appropriations.

Although the GST take has increased in direct proportion to price rises, perceptions of massive long-term government windfalls are not supported by the AA's annual figures, despite its call on Finance Minister Michael Cullen to ease motorists' pain by at least foregoing the portion heaped on fuel excise. The $31 million increase in GST payments on petrol last year was largely offset by a $26.7 million fall in receipts from diesel sales.

But diesel prices have soared this year at an even faster rate than petrol, and overall the GST take for the two fuels of $109 million in March were $20.1 million higher than for the same month last year.

The Treasury says that, on the other hand, excise of $1316 million collected in the year to April on easing petrol sales was $70 million - or 5% - lower than for the previous 12 months.

Although Dr Cullen argues that extra GST collected on petrol and diesel is balanced by revenue lost on other items which people can no longer afford, the changes may alter placements in a table ranking New Zealand fuel taxes at the low end of OECD rates.

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