Equivalence principle (tax)

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The equivalence principle is a principle for structuring the financial contribution of citizens for services provided by their state. It states that the person who has an advantage from a service will be used to finance this service in accordance with this benefit via a corresponding fee . The equivalence principle can thus be seen as the transfer of market economy mechanisms to state activities. Above all, it makes statements about tax equity . It is regularly used to justify the collection of taxes. Accordingly, taxes are seen as an equivalent for state benefits (benefit principle) or as compensation for state costs (cost principle). In the meantime, however, the competing theory of the performance principle is also gaining in importance for the justification of taxes and duties . From a financial perspective , however, the principle of equivalence is still important in the argumentation regarding the introduction of fees , contributions or income from the state.

Equivalence principle as a tax justification reason

Since the introduction of the trade tax, the principle of equivalence has been used as a justification for levying municipal taxes - namely property tax and trade tax - and their structure as real taxes (see justification for the GewStG 1936, RStBl. 1937, p. 693; BVerfG, decision v December 21, 1966, 1 BvR 33/64, BVerfGE 21, p. 54 (65ff.))

Taxes as levies without consideration

The principle of equivalence cannot and does not need to be used to justify the levying of a tax, since tax levying does not require any consideration ( Section 3 of the Tax Code ). Therefore, the justification of other taxes by this principle makes perfect sense.

Deviations from the performance principle

The principle of equivalence can also be used to justify a deviation from the principle of taxation based on economic capacity . However, this only applies to certain taxes that are intended to compensate for a special benefit or special damage that only certain taxpayers have or cause. For the justification of the trade tax with the equivalence principle, it is argued, for example, that this should compensate the benefits of the municipal services (roads, schools, etc.) for the local businesses.

Individual and group equivalence

Individual equivalence : Fees are usually charged for state services that are directly attributed to individual citizens , for example for the issue of a new identity card . If the state service is potentially usable for a certain group of citizens, contributions are levied, e.g. B. Canal development contributions.

For taxation, however, only a less narrow group equivalence comes into question. Therefore, the principle of equivalence can mainly justify the levying of a certain tax on certain groups, but less often the design of the assessment base.

Principle of equivalence, fees and taxes

Depending on the tightness of the possible attribution, combinations of taxes and fees are possible.

For example, it corresponds to the equivalence principle if the mineral oil tax is used for the construction of roads; through the combination of consumption-dependent mineral oil tax and pollutant-dependent vehicle tax, cost equivalence is also taken into account. However, just as roads may also by charging a toll - fee financed. From an efficiency point of view, one has to weigh up the higher costs of a fee collection (see: Toll Collect ) with a better allocation of costs (or recording of benefits) with the lower costs of a tax collection with a simultaneously poorer cost-benefit allocation.


  • Tipke, Klaus, Lang, Joachim : Tax Law, 17th Edition, Cologne: Dr. Otto Schmidt, 2002, p. 81 f.
  • Tipke, Klaus : Die Steuerrechtsordnung, Volume I and Volume II, 2nd edition, Cologne: Dr. Otto Schmidt, 2000/2003