Opposition submits proposals to change 2017 budget
While the Reform Party is gearing up to defend the 2017 budget bill against a potential coalition of the Center Party, the Social Democrats, and IRL, the Free Party and EKRE have already submitted proposals to change it.
The Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) finds that Russian-language TV channel ETV+, launched by Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) just over a year ago, should be closed, and that the Kultuurileht foundation should receive less money. The foundation publishes a number of magazines related to the arts, music, writing, and education.
EKRE: Spend less on culture and Russian-language state media
ETV+ was not meeting its objectives, the party argued, as it didn’t contribute to integrating the Russian minority, but was instead watched mainly by Estonians. Its €4.4m were too much, the channel to be closed.
Kultuurileht’s publications, supported by the Estonian state with €165,000 in the 2017 budget, were of questionable necessity, and their “aesthetic level” hard to justify, EKRE criticized.
The party would also like to cut the funding of the Office of the President by €300,000. The office was oversized, and the way the maintenance of former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ real estate was supported was oversized as well.
Other changes proposed by EKRE include cutting funding for Estonia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union as well as Rail Baltic. Instead, the state’s support of Estonian farmers should increase, along with more funding for the school network, and local roads.
Free Party: Fix people’s heating systems
The Free Party would like to increase the budgets of the Ministry of Regional Affairs, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Ministry of the Interior. One of the objectives could be to renew people’s heating systems, the party suggested, as there were a lot of accidents every winter that could be avoided if systems met the required norms.
People with low incomes and families without broad insurance couldn’t afford to get their heating fixed, and the local municipal councils didn’t have the means to do it either.
The Free Party would also like to see more money allocated to teachers’ salaries and the voluntary rescue service. Estonian language training, supporting rural tourism, and preventing crime are other objectives the party named in its proposal.
New coalition: No major budget changes to be expected
The 2017 budget bill has already passed its first reading in the Riigikogu, and at this point only small changes are still possible. Future economic and tax policy shifts would be part of the coalition’s work in 2017 and 2018, Center Party MP Kadri Simson said in an interview with Päevaleht published on Monday.
Still, the coalition intends to submit changes before the bill’s third reading. The three parties are considering taking the 0.5% social tax cut of the Reform Party government back out of the bill.
That the budget bill as a whole will be voted down by the new coalition is highly improbable, as negotiations are aiming for a shorter and more general agreement between the Center Party, the Social Democrats, and IRL. Hence no detailed policy shifts are to be expected.
The likely new coalition has announced tax policy changes, including a possible increase of the income tax-exempt minimum and cutting back on the previous government’s excise hikes.