In Brief: New Brunswick’s plan to lower personal and business income taxes takes a page straight out of AIMS extensive research on taxation policy. Lowering income tax is a significant economic stimulator at any time. In this op-ed from The Globe and Mail, AIMS Executive Vice President Charles Cirtwill explains that New Brunswick’s tax plan is a better economic stimulator than plans laid out by other provincial governments.

by Charles Cirtwill

With the significant economic shocks in Southern Ontario, we are starting to see signs of a trickle of out-migration to non-traditional destinations such as Atlantic Canada. Going down the road might actually mean heading east for a change.

If the New Brunswick government has anything to say about it, that trickle will soon be a flood. The province has inaugurated this year’s budget season in Atlantic Canada and has done so with a bang.

While not perfect, New Brunswick’s budget includes a “plan for lower taxes” that will leave almost every other province green with envy.

Stated simply, by 2012, New Brunswick will have the lowest corporate tax rate in the country (unless the rest of us elect to keep pace). This year, it will be tied with the largest small-business tax limit (at $500,000) and, again by 2012, only British Columbia and Alberta will have a substantially more attractive personal tax system.

Absent significant rethinking by most other provinces, New Brunswick will be the place to live, work, raise a family, start and invest in a business. Now that is economic stimulus.

New Brunswick appears to have recognized what few others have: that economic stimulus need not pass through government hands first. All economic stimulus is funded by the taxpayer. Stimulus in the form of infrastructure and corporate subsidies always see a little taken off the top as government makes payroll for the people collecting the money and issuing the cheques.

Stimulus left in the hands of the taxpayer is both more immediate and more local: It will be spent at your corner store, your neighbour’s hardware store, the hair salon your brother owns and the garage his wife manages.

As I said, however, this plan is not perfect. The basic personal exemption is not set to rise nearly high enough or fast enough. People making less than $20,000 and families making less than $30,000 will still be paying provincial taxes in 2012.

A higher basic personal exemption is a better, more effective, more affordable anti-poverty tool than a higher minimum wage. A higher minimum wage is paid by businesses and their consumers, it kills jobs and it increases the income taxes government collects. A higher basic personal exemption is supported by all of us, it encourages business to create jobs and allows people to take those jobs, because the money they earn, they keep.

Even with fewer and lower tax rates, the New Brunswick tax system will still be disproportionately dependent on job-killing personal income taxes. Consumption taxes will be underutilized. Most economists agree that consumption taxes are “better” taxes.

But ignoring the economists for a minute, had the provincial government gone ahead with a two-point increase in the harmonized sales tax (the blended version of its sales tax and the federal GST), it could have increased the basic personal exemption further and faster, it could have funded a provincial HST rebate, it could even have considered matching the federal Universal Child Care Benefit. All of these things would have helped the least advantaged among us in far more meaningful and far more immediate ways.

But the savings on offer are real and significant, nonetheless, and will do far more for the average New Brunswicker than investments in infrastructure or the distribution of government largesse to select industries.

As to the question of stimulus, while I do not agree with those who argue that savings are “lost” to the economy, knowing the HST was going up by two points in six months might encourage you to make that purchase today, especially if you know you’re going to get even more tax savings tomorrow. This would have been an effective response to the argument that large portions of tax reductions are likely to be saved as opposed to spent.

All this is just to show what further improvements New Brunswick could make, and what may well be on offer this time next year, or the year after.

Overall, this plan for lower taxes will do more for New Brunswick than any of the economic plans currently being discussed by other provincial governments. If you are in Southern Ontario (or anywhere else in Canada) and making travel plans, you now have much more to think about.

Charles Cirtwill is the Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a public policy think tank in Halifax, NS.