The B.C. government’s employer health tax has been steered through the legislature with little notice, and employers with payrolls of $500,000 and larger are bracing for its impact.
Municipalities are preparing property tax increases to cover the payroll tax and Medical Services Plan premiums they will continue to pay at half rate next year. Finance Minister Carole James decided they would not get the exemption given to school districts, post-secondary schools and health authorities. Non-profits are exempted for annual payroll up to $1.5 million.
The tax takes effect Jan. 1, 2019 at 2.9 per cent on payroll between $500,000 and $1.5 million and 1.95 per cent on payroll amounts above $1.5 million. James said the 1.95 per cent rate is tied with Ontario for the lowest payroll health tax across other provinces, and emphasized that MSP premiums were reduced by half on Jan. 1, 2018.
Business leaders and opposition critics focused on the double taxation for 2019, and the extension of payroll tax to seasonal farm workers and others whose employers don’t pay MSP premiums.
Langley East MLA Rich Coleman told the legislature that municipalities in his area are looking at property tax increases between 2.5 and three per cent to cover the double cost next year. That means “probably about 90 per cent” of business leases will go up. One local farm that has operated for 40 years is facing a $100,000 increase in payroll costs for 2019, he said.
B.C. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen warned of the impact on large private employers in his Saanich North and the Islands constituency. An electrical contractor with 280 employees and a payroll of $20 million a year is looking at nearly a 10-fold increase in costs from 2017 to 2019, Olsen said.
James presented the payroll tax legislation at the same time as her government’s speculation tax on empty homes, which got most of the attention as she announced rate reductions demanded by B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver.