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July 3, 2002
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Completing Small Business Tax Reform

by Alvin Rabushka

On July 2, 2002, the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, concluded its business prior to the start of its summer vacation. Among the bills approved was a comprehensive reform of small business taxation. Once the measure is approved by the Federation Council, the upper house of Parliament, and signed by President Putin, the measure becomes law.

On May 22, 2002, I posted to this site an article entitled "Tax Reform Remains High on Russia's Policy Agenda." It described the government's proposal. Small firms with fewer than 20 staff and turnover under R15 million ($477,100 at current exchange rates) could choose to remit the lesser of a 15% flat tax on profits or a 6% flat tax on turnover. Eligible businesses would enjoy exemption from value-added tax, sales tax, property tax, and social insurance taxes.

The measure approved by the Duma on July 2 retained the previous provisions on tax rates and turnover, but extended the number of employees in any eligible small business to 100. The benefits of qualifying as a small business are readily apparent since larger corporations are subject to a 24% profits tax.

We have commented on this site on all of Russia's major tax reforms, especially the 13% flat tax on personal income (see "The Flat Tax at Work in Russia" and The Flat Tax). The personal income tax has been especially productive of revenue, with ruble receipts up 28% in real terms in 2001 compared with 2000.

On July 1, 2001, the senior deputy minister of finance reported that underpaid taxes to the federal budget in the first half of 2002 amounted to R 17 billion ($540.17 million). He acknowledged that collection of tax on the extraction of natural resources, income tax for individuals, and the unified social tax was satisfactory, but that the collection of value-added taxes and profits taxes was below projections. (See The reasons for the new small business tax are to improve incentives and compliance among these firms. With exemptions from value-added tax, sales tax, property tax, and social insurance taxes, small businesses will receive a substantial reduction in their tax burdens. Banking, insurance, and investment businesses are excluded from the small business tax reform.

Where can Russian tax reform go from here?

Additional simplification can be achieved by reducing the small business profits flat tax rate to 13%, which would eliminate the unnecessary distinction between sole proprietors and small businesses.

A more drastic measure would reduce the corporate income tax rate from 24% to 13%, thereby permitting full integration with the personal and small business taxes. This would enable all taxpaying entities to be treated equally in terms of the choice of legal ownership.

If it were necessary to maintain revenue neutrality, the government could raise the value-added tax by a few percentage points, or impose a higher natural resource extraction tax.

Recent rate reductions and simplifications have transformed a complex, high-rate tax system into a simpler, low-rate system. A few additional measures could complete the process of tax reform.