The Low and Middle Income Tax Offset (known as the LMITO or “lamington”) has been given yet another new lease of life.
What started in 2018 as a stop-gap until broader tax cuts were introduced, was extended because of COVID after the tax cuts were introduced in the 2020 budget and has now been extended again in 2021 to assist with the COVID recovery.
Which is odd, because, being a delayed payment (it is only paid out as tax refunds after the end of each financial year), it offers anything but real-time support.
And despite its name, it isn’t offered to Australians on very low incomes.
If you earn less than the A$18,200 tax-free threshold, LMITO gives you nothing.
If you earn more than that and up to $37,000 it will cut your tax by up to $255.
The LMITO gradually increases with income until it reaches $1,080 for taxable incomes between $48,000 and $90,000.
Beyond $90,000 it starts falling and cuts out entirely for taxable income over $126,000.
The quick fix that came to stay
It was introduced by the Government in the 2018 budget as a temporary measure until the ‘stage 2’ tax cuts came in from 2022. In the 2020 budget the Government brought forward the ‘stage 2’ tax cuts. This meant the LMITO was no longer needed for its original purpose, but the Government extended it for a year.
In the budget, the treasurer labelled the extension a “new and additional tax cut”.
Others might see it as continuing to escape a tax increase.
The extended LMITO will be received by about 10 million taxpayers from July 1 2021 after they lodge their tax returns. The extension will cost $7.8 billion.
This cost makes it one of the more expensive decisions announced in the budget, and — especially if it gets extended again, it will as good as destroy the promise in earlier budgets of a simpler, flatter tax schedule.
Here’s what it does to tax
The LMITO (and its sibling, the longstanding Low Income Tax Offset) make the tax schedule more complicated.
Ignoring them, there are four marginal tax rates, soon to be three after the Morrison government’s stage three tax cuts are introduced.
Including them, as this graph prepared by Steven Hamilton for The Conversation in 2019 shows, there are many more marginal rates which fall and rise and fall and rise again.
Authors: John Hawkins, Senior Lecturer, Canberra School of Politics, Economics and Society and NATSEM, University of Canberra