New state budget receives both praise and criticism
The Parliament approved the 2015 state budget - with the total expenditure of 8.54 billion euros - on Wednesday. Critics are finding fault with an income tax reduction and state funding for parliamentary parties.
The state budget passed its final reading with 56 votes in favor. Andres Herkel, one of the 7 MPs who do not belong to any faction, and 35 opposition members voted against the budget.
Aivar Sõerd, a member of the Parliament's Finance Committee, said that the new budget brings good news to many people, as the child support benefits, pensions and the public sector payroll fund will grow.
An extra 2.5 million euros was found for health care workers between the second and third reading, who had been negotiating a pay rise through a public conciliator.
Kardi Simson, the head of the Estonian Center Party faction, criticized the income tax reduction from 21 to 20 percent, saying that a worker who is paid minimum wage will win a marginal 26.6 euros, a worker on average wage 97.2 euros, an MP 373 euros and the prime minister 583 euros per year.
"This is a great gift to above-the-average earners on the expense of the Estonian people. Some may get enough money to buy a few expensive pairs of socks to match with their ties, but for people on the minimum wage it's a question of coping with elementary living-costs," Simson said.
Parties to receive 5.4 million euros
According to the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee, the Free Party and the Party of People’s Unity, state funding accounted for more than two-thirds of the yearly income of parliamentary parties.
Of the non-parliamentary parties, only the Green Party and the Conservative People's Party received state funding. As the amount of money a party will receive from the state budget is tied to its election result, the two newcomers were left empty-handed.
The non-parliamentary parties said that, compared to other EU states, Estonia is giving parties too much money that has no explicitly intended purpose.
Free Party leader Andres Herkel criticized the Finance Committee's budget amendment that regards the funds the MPs can personally allocate to projects of their choosing. In 2015, kindergartens, schools, societies and others will receive 6.1 million euros by those means. However, this makes an MP like a Russian boyar, Herkel said.
"It is directly linked to the elections and a use of public resources. It's not far from what Tallinn is doing and as such is not right. It undermines the position of an MP, likening him/her to a Santa Claus, who walks around with a bag full of gifts," Herkel added.