Local Councils Demand Share of Tourist Tax

The local council of Skútustaðahreppur wants to see taxes collected from overnight stays directed to local authorities for the building of tourist infrastructure, RÚV reports. The government previously pledged to transfer the funds earned through taxation of overnight stays to municipal governments during this electoral term as part of a revision of income. The matter, however, is absent from next year’s budget bill and not listed on the parliament’s agenda this winter.

The local council of Skútustapahreppur expressed disappointment at the lack of action on the issue. Þorsteinn Gunnarsson, the council’s director, said the funds were much needed. “There are a number of projects that have been on hold that this funding could be used for. Construction of toilet facilities, hiking and cycling paths around Mývatn lake and many more. So this is funding that would immediately go into the development of infrastructure here.”

Based on the number of overnight stays, it is estimated the tax will put ISK 30 to 35 million ($256,000-299,000/€221,000-258,000) in the treasury’s coffers, which could be funnelled to local governments. Þorsteinn Gunnarsson says transferring the taxes to municipalities should be a simple matter.

Aldís Hafsteinsdóttir, the new chairperson of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities, urges the government to amend the budget bill and transfer the overnight stay tax to local councils starting next year. “The overnight stay tax is intended to support development at tourist destinations all across the country. So it is important that it goes to those who are overseeing the destinations, which are to the greatest extent the local councils.”

Opinions Divided Over Website Which Publishes Icelanders’ Income

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Opinions are divided about tekjur.is, a new website which makes the income of all Icelanders public. While labour union representatives celebrate the initiative, other individuals have filed complaints against the website with the Icelandic Data Protection Authority.

The website tekjur.is went online on October 12, and has been widely reported on in media since. “Tekjur.is publishes information on the wages of all adult individuals, with the aim of promoting informed and honest discussion about the participation of taxpayers in the public sector,” the website states.

Though the Directorate of Internal Revenue publishes a list of 40 individuals paying the highest taxes in Iceland each year, according to the data provided by tekjur.is, the list does not necessarily show the highest earners. This is because tax on capital earnings is significantly lower than income tax in Iceland, Kjarninn reports. Tekjur.is shows, for example, that six Icelanders earned more than ISK 1 billion ($8.5m/€7.4m) in capital gains in 2016, three over ISK 2 billion ($17.1m/€14.7m), and two over ISK 3 billion ($25.6m/€22.1m). At least two of those individuals were not on the Directorate of Internal Revenue’s highest taxpayers list.

Drífa Snædal, general secretary of the Federation of General and Special workers in Iceland, expressed support for the initiative to make Icelanders’ income public in a Facebook post. “In secrecy lies injustice,” she stated. “I have never understood why income should be a secret and welcome this initiative.”

The Icelandic Data Protection Authority has however received at least nine complaints from individuals about the website, including Björgvin Guðmundsson, Partner and Senior Account Manager at KOM Consulting, who calls the initiative “clearly illegal.” The Authority is considering the case though it remains unclear when a decision will be made.

Ingvar Smári Birgisson, lawyer and chairman of Young Independents (the youth organisation of the Independence Party of Iceland), filed an injunction against the website yesterday, calling it a violation of the privacy act and the handling of personal information. A notice on tekjur.is, however, states that “since the parliament has specifically authorised the publication of information from the tax register, anyone is permitted to do so.” Further information on the website says names and income information will not be removed from the site without “specific and substantive reasons.”

Two out of Three Icelanders Registered in National Church

Nearly two out of every three of Iceland’s residents, or just over 65%, are registered members of the national church. The numbers come from Registers Iceland and represent a loss of 2,029 members for the church since December 1, 2017.

During the same time period, Iceland’s Catholic Church gained around 377 members while the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association gained 370 members. As of October 1 of this year, 24,501 individuals are not registered in any religious or spiritual association, an increase of 1,959 individuals or 8.7% since December 1, 2017.