OECD Taxation Working Papers N. 32 – Legal tax liability, legal remittance responsibility and tax incidence
THREE DIMENSIONS OF BUSINESS TAXATION. This paper examines the role of businesses in the tax system. In addition to being directly taxed, businesses act as withholding agents and remitters of tax on behalf of others. Yet the share of tax revenue that businesses remit to governments outside of direct tax liabilities is under-studied. This paper develops two measures of the contribution of businesses to the tax system: (i) legal tax liability and (ii) legal remittance responsibility. Legal tax liability is defined as the sum of taxes that are imposed on businesses directly (e.g., corporate income tax), whereas legal remittance responsibility is the sum of taxes that businesses remit on behalf of others in the economy (e.g., tax on the wages of employees, sales and value-added taxes). This paper considers both measures for 24 OECD countries using data from the OECD’s Revenue Statistics database and additional information gathered from OECD member countries. Care should be taken in interpreting both measures, which should be understood against the backdrop of the issue of economic incidence. Economic incidence refers to the fact that the burden of a tax is not necessarily borne by the person on whom the tax is imposed under legal statute. For example, a tax imposed on capital owners may either be absorbed or shifted onto others in the economy, such as consumers or workers. Economic incidence will vary according to many factors, such as type of tax, country, and labour and product market structures. Recognising the importance of this issue for policymakers, the paper reviews the empirical literature on the economic incidence of taxation and summarises the estimates by tax category. Some of the key findings of the paper include: · Businesses play an important role in the tax system, both as taxpayers and as remitters of tax on behalf of others. Governments often rely upon businesses to remit taxes imposed on others for reasons of administrative ease – arising from the economies of scale of taxing fewer large entities – and improved tax compliance. · The results show that businesses remit an important share of tax revenue to governments. This takes two forms: legal tax liabilities imposed directly on businesses (which account for 33.5% of total tax revenue in 2014, on average, across the 24 OECD countries analysed) and taxes remitted on behalf of others (45.3% of total tax revenue, on average, across the same set of countries). · While businesses benefit in certain ways through their involvement in the tax collection process (e.g., the cash flow benefit), their remittance responsibilities also entail compliance costs. The analysis of businesses’ overall role in remitting taxes to governments should include not just their legal tax liabilities, but also the compliance costs incurred on account of their legal remittance responsibilities. · However, consideration of both the legal tax liabilities and legal remittance responsibilities of businesses does not necessarily provide evidence of who actually bears the burden of these taxes. In this regard, these two measures of the contribution of businesses to the tax system should take account of the crucial issue of economic incidence. · This paper finds that the majority of empirical studies of economic incidence focus on the corporate income tax, where a wide-ranging review of the literature finds that it is likely that at least 30% of the corporate income tax is shifted onto labour. · While there has been much research undertaken on the economic incidence of the corporate income tax, this paper calls for additional future empirical work on the economic incidence of other taxes. The paper highlights two additional issues. First, though there is little empirical evidence available concerning the economic incidence of compliance costs, the channels through which tax burdens are passed on to others in the economy likely also apply to compliance costs. Finally, there is recent evidence that economic incidence may vary depending upon which entity is assigned responsibility for remitting a tax. More empirical research is needed in both of these areas. Milanez, A. (2017).