You’d be forgiven for thinking it is Christmas time already after glancing through Sinn Féin’s alternative budget proposals. There’s goodies there for everyone, except the rich. It is a jam-packed financial hamper for many of their core voter groups.
But a deeper look at the rewards and returns offered to recession-hit voters reveal a very alternative society that would exist if Gerry Adams’ party were to get into Government buildings tomorrow.
These Sinn Féin promises, not surprisingly, are radical, left-wing budgetary alternative proposals to what we can expect from the Fine Gael-Labour coalition next week.
Many benefits torn away from citizens during the financial crash would be returned, pledge Sinn Féin. Services and old supports would be restored in health and education, new levies dropped and the controversial property and water charges axed.
Inevitably, these will go down as populist promises, a challenge the party faces on a weekly basis.
In total, the abolition of the property and water charges would leave an €800m hole for the exchequer.
This is a huge sum. Furthermore, a lot of it is ringfenced for local area usage, which must make the idea of dropping such charges very unattractive for a left-wing party.
Instead of these universal levies, the party would go after high-income earners. Its costed proposals, checked by the Department of Finance, suggest that a new third rate of tax of 48% on income earned in excess of €100,000 could net some €448m.
Coupled with this, it would increase employer’s PRSI by 5% to 15.75% and keep the Universal Social Charge at 10% for those on salaries over €100,000. These could raise an extra €259m, it says.
The party instead proposes to give something back to the low-paid and unemployed.
Up to 296,000 people on less than €17,542 would be exempt from the USC. Currently, this applies to people on incomes up to €10,000.
Furthermore, in a nod to its increasing numbers of young voters, the party has pledged to restore the maximum rate of €188 per week for jobseekers over two years. This would cost €89m.
The Department of Finance points out that, while it has costed Sinn Féin’s proposals, the figures do not include the potential knock-on effects of any tax or policy changes.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny went straight to this reality when commenting on Sinn Féin’s budget plans yesterday. The Fine Gael leader insisted that the steep hikes in PRSI and income tax would see employers and investors flee Ireland.
When asked this question by this newspaper, Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty claimed that third rates or high rates of tax for the wealthier existed in other EU states.
Sinn Féin’s plans meant 7 cent extra for every euro for people on incomes over €100,000, he said.
“If you look at some of the countries that have the best competitiveness, they actually have high tax rates.”
Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Germany and Finland and France all had higher rates than Ireland, he said.
“In Britain, there is a 45% rate for earners above €150,000,” he said.
Indeed, Labour, before it entered power, also favoured a third rate of tax under its then leader Eamon Gilmore.
But Sinn Féin is also promising other returns and bonuses for voters.
These include an end to prescription charges, increases in the family income supplement, the respite care grant, the fuel allowance, farmer assistance payments and increasing the number of resource teachers.
It also promises to reduce Oireachtas pay and allowances by 50%.
But what pays for these welfare restorations and extras?
The party would seriously curb the State’s contributions to top pensions as well as the amount of tax relief given to pensioners.
These would raise some €345m, it says.
Ultimately, Sinn Féin’s budgetary model is radically different from what we can expect from any political party over the next week.
It will certainly separate the party from others at the next general election. Whether voters buy its alternative dream is another matter.
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