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Cantonal profits worth millions: Basel examines tax refunds according to Avenir Suisse – News


If a canton achieves a large surplus, calls for tax cuts quickly become loud. But the think tank Avenir Suisse makes a different suggestion: Instead of reducing taxes, cantons should refund taxes – in the form of a discount on the next tax bill.

  • The Basel parliament wants tax refunds in the event of high surpluses in the cantonal accounts.
  • The government must now examine this model. Basel has been recording large surpluses for years.
  • The idea comes from the think tank “Avenir Suisse”; This requirement could also arise in other cantons.

If a canton writes a plus, that is actually good news. But for the Basel FDP politician Christian Moesch, surpluses in the millions are too much of a good thing: “It is not the state’s job to achieve such surpluses.”

View of the Roche Towers.  Two of them are very tall, three are smaller.  It is dusk, the windows are lit.


In Basel-Stadt, the pharmaceutical industry contributes a lot to the tax surplus. However, corporate taxes are difficult to budget because they depend on the company’s profits. In the picture the Roche area in Kleinbasel.

Canton of Basel-Stadt/Sabine Schneeberger

In Basel-Stadt it has almost become a tradition for the canton to achieve large surpluses. Moesch has therefore submitted a proposal in which he demands that part of these surpluses be refunded to taxpayers. The Grand Council approved the request by 71 votes to 18 with 4 abstentions.

Broad support from the left-wing camp

“The state shouldn’t take money out of its citizens’ pockets that it doesn’t need,” said SVP Grand Councilor Lorenz Amiet. In addition to the bourgeois factions, large parts of the SP faction also agreed to the proposal, just that The Green Alternative Alliance was against it.

The 2023 budgets were the furthest off in these cantons:

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  • Geneva: Instead of a loss of 476 million francs, the city canton achieved a whopping plus of 1.4 billion francs – 1.9 billion more than budgeted.
  • Basel city: This resulted in an increase of 434 million francs – significantly higher than the budgeted 13 million francs.
  • Aargau: The Aargau finance director was a good 400 million francs off: In the calculation, the canton achieved a plus of 297 million instead of a minus of 119 million.
  • Zurich: The Zurich finance director miscalculated by a good 350 million francs – that’s how much of a loss the budget envisaged. Instead there was a red zero with a loss of two million francs.
  • Train: Even the canton with the lowest taxes took in more than budgeted: 461 million instead of 248 million francs.

Not all cantons have yet published their bills for 2023.

In his initiative, Christian Moesch from the Basel FDP is receiving support from Avenir Suisse. The liberal think tank has shown that in 2021 and 2022 the cantons received around eight billion francs more than expected. This can partly be explained by the uncertainties during the corona pandemic, but finance directors are often cautious, says Avenir Suisse economist Lukas Rühli: “Cantons usually budget too cautiously.”

View of the Jet d'Eau in Geneva.


Despite billions in surplus: In Geneva, the Avenir Suisse think tank would not recommend tax refunds. The canton is still heavily in debt.

Keystone/Jean-Christophe Bott

Avenir Suisse’s solution: pay back taxes. But only if the canton is doing well financially anyway, according to study director Lukas Rühli: “Only in good years and only if the canton does not have to reduce its debts.” The tax refund is possible with little effort: there would be a corresponding discount on the next tax bill.

Only in good years and only if the canton does not have to reduce its debts.

In the canton of Geneva, taxpayers would not benefit from a discount, despite a billion-dollar surplus. The city canton remains heavily in debt.

More than 3,000 francs per household

In the case of Basel-Stadt – a canton that has repeatedly achieved record surpluses for years – the discount would make sense, says Lukas Rühli: “From 2016 to 2022, Basel-Stadt could have paid back an average of a good 3,000 francs per household per year.” That would correspond to around ten percent of the taxes paid.

According to the economist, repaying taxes would make more sense than reducing them. Tax cuts are always associated with risks: they are politically controversial and it takes longer before they can be implemented. Tax refunds, on the other hand, are one-off and therefore less risky.

Finance director does not want to comment yet

In an initial reaction, Basel Finance Director Tanja Soland (SP) described the proposal as “worth examining”. She did not comment on this in the debate in the Basel cantonal parliament.

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