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The tax and social contribution system in Bulgaria: formal structure and possible impacts

Hans-Georg Petersen () and Atanas Naydenov

No S-13, Finanzwissenschaftliche Diskussionsbeiträge : Specials series: Industrial and social policies in countries in transition from Universität Potsdam, Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät

Abstract: Like in all countries in transition, the tax as well as the transfer system have been under serious reform pressures. The socialistic systems were not able to fulfill the necessary functions in providing a certain degree of redistribution and social security, which are inevitable for social oriented market economies. Increasing income and wage differentiation is one of the most important prerequisites for a market oriented ability to pay tax system. But in the transformation period, numerous quasi-legal or even illegal property transactions have taken place, thus leading to wealth concentrations on the one hand while as consequence of the bankruptcy of socialism, enormous poverty problems have arisen on the other. For the political acceptance of the transformation process it is of utmost importance that an efficient and fair tax system is implemented and social security is organised by the state on a level which secures at least the physical minimum of subsistence or – if economically possible – even a social-cultural minimum. Whether the state should go further in providing compulsory social insurance systems has been a hotly debated topic for decades even in the welfare and social states of the Western type. Whereas the basic security systems have to be financed by general tax revenue, for a compulsory social insurance system – due to the insurance character – special earmarked social security contribution are held necessary. Both public goods and services as well as at least basic security have to be financed by total tax revenue. For the acceptance and fairness of the whole system the total redistributive effect of both sides of the budget – the tax system as well as the expenditure system – are decisive. In this paper we will concentrate on the revenue side, e.g. on the taxes as well as on the social security contributions. Adam Smith had already formulated some very simple tax norms which have been transformed in modern tax theory. The equivalence as well as the ability-topay principle are basic yardsticks for every tax system in a democratic oriented market system, not to forget tax fairness. In the historical development process equity-oriented measures have often produced an enormous complexity of the single taxes as well as of the whole tax system. Therefore, reconsidering the Smithian principles of simplicity and of minimum compliance costs for the tax payer would even press many Western European tax systems to undergo serious reform processes which often are delayed because of intense interest group influence. Hence, a modern tax system is a simple one which consists only of a few single taxes which are easy to administer. Such a system consists of two main taxes, the income and the value added tax. Consequently in all countries of transition both taxes have been implemented, while the implementation was fostered by the fact that both also constitute the typical components of the EU member states systems. Therefore such a harmonising tax reform is the most important prerequisite to become a membership candidate. Bulgaria also tried to follow this general pattern in reforming the income tax system starting in 1992 and replacing the old socialistic turnover tax and excise duty system by the value added tax (VAT) in 1994. Especially with regard to the income tax system the demand for simplicity has not been met yet. Complex rules to define the tax base as well as a steeply progressive tax schedule have led to behavioral adaptations which are even strengthened by the effects of a high social contribution burden which is predominantly laid on the employers. In the following some concise descriptions of the tax and social contribution system are given; the paper closes with a summary, in which the impacts of the system are evaluated and some political recommendations for further reforms are presented.

Date: 1999-06
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