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Examining Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation in Australia


  • Jonathan Pincus

    () (School of Economics, University of Adelaide)


In 2010-11 over $45 billion GST monies, and about $24b of other grants, will be distributed between the States and Territories on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. The Commission is instructed to implement Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation (HFE); and not to be concerned with efficiency. The paper examines how the CGC pursues fiscal equality, and finds some systematic flaws. The adjustments made by the CGC for demography and mining, but not for wages, undoubtedly reduce inequality in fiscal capacities, from a short-run point of view. However, for payroll tax assessments, the CGC can mistakenly transfer moneys from equals to equals; and disturb an efficient pattern of interstate migration and settlement. The reason is that labour mobility tends to make working households indifferent between jobs in different jurisdictions, with the differences in wage rates compensating for locationally-specific differences in costs of living. In addition to equity flaws, I note some negative efficiency effects, as counterweights to the common claims that HFE improves economic efficiency. Interestingly, HFE in Australia strives for full equalisation of state budget capacities; in contrast, governments attempt only partial equalisation of private budget capacities. I present a framework for considering the trade-off between equality and efficiency, adapted from Brennan and Pincus (2004 and 2010). The main result is that little or no allowance should be made for interstate differences in unit costs of public provision of (public or private) goods and services. An alternative distribution of GST monies is estimated for 2010-11.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Pincus, 2011. "Examining Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation in Australia," School of Economics Working Papers 2011-25, University of Adelaide, School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:adl:wpaper:2011-25

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James M. Buchanan & Richard E. Wagner, 1970. "An Efficiency Basis for Federal Fiscal Equalization," NBER Chapters,in: The Analysis of Public Output, pages 139-162 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Flatters, Frank & Henderson, Vernon & Mieszkowski, Peter, 1974. "Public goods, efficiency, and regional fiscal equalization," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 99-112, May.
    3. Peter B. Dixon & Mark R. Picton & Maureen T. Rimmer, 2002. "Efficiency Effects of Inter-Government Financial Transfers in Australia," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 35(3), pages 304-315.
    4. Edward L. Glaeser & Joshua D. Gottlieb, 2009. "The Wealth of Cities: Agglomeration Economies and Spatial Equilibrium in the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(4), pages 983-1028, December.
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    fiscal equalization; Australian fiscal policy;

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