Irish finance minister sets out income tax plan, would raise minimum wage

Promises to raise wage 15 per cent by 2021
By Padraic Halpin
||Last Updated: 02/09/2016

DUBLIN (Reuters) — Ireland's senior coalition party will ensure high earners do not make "extravagant gains" from planned income tax cuts and also raise the minimum wage by 15 per cent by 2021 if re-elected, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said on Sunday.

Ireland votes on Feb. 26 in what promises to be a tight contest dominated by debate over how the resources freed up by a strong economic recovery should be spent and how or whether an unpopular additional tax levied on income, the Universal Social Charge (USC), should be unwound.

Noonan's Fine Gael, comfortably ahead in opinion polls that nevertheless suggest it may struggle to form a coalition, plans to abolish the tax brought in during the financial crisis.

On Sunday Noonan outlined how the state would claw back some of the gains with a new 5 per cent levy on incomes over 100,000 euros (US$112,000).

"Personal taxes are too high in Ireland but if you abolish the USC completely without any claw back, there would be very extravagant gains for people on the highest incomes," Noonan told a news conference.

"They will still gain very, very significantly but not disproportionately. We will reduce the marginal rate of tax to 44 per cent (from 49.5 per cent) for middle income earners and to under 50 per cent for everyone else."

The 'high income levy' would mean the gradual benefit of USC abolition for a worker earning 100,000 euros would be capped at just over 5,000 euros versus 9,500 euros if there was no claw-back, Fine Gael said.

The state body that attracts foreign direct investment into the country has warned that income tax rates are too high and could make it difficult to keep winning investments from the multinationals that employ almost one in every 10 workers.

Fine Gael's junior partner Labour, which is struggling in the polls, wants to scrap the USC on the first 72,000 euros of income, a similar proposal to the opposition Fianna Fail party.

Left-wing Sinn Fein, scrapping it out for second place with Fianna Fail, would eliminate the tax for low-income workers and in addition to maintaining it for others, would also levy an additional new 7 percent tax on salaries above 100,000 euros.

Fine Gael also said the cost of its proposed increase of the national minimum wage to 10.50 euros an hour from 9.15 euros would be mitigated for businesses by a cut in employers' social insurance contributions.

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