Opposition parties table nearly 30 amendments to state budget bill

MP Aivar Sõerd (Reform) with a copy of the state budget bill.
MP Aivar Sõerd (Reform) with a copy of the state budget bill. Source: Reform Party

The two opposition parties have between them tabled 29 motions to amend the coalition's state budget bill.

The Reform Party, the larger of the two parties with 34 seats, has proposed 10 amendments, while the Social Democratic Party (SDE) has put up 19.

The amendments mostly concern pensions and income tax, the tourist sector, care home places, sick pay and Estonian-language education, as well as balancing the budget.

"The state budget must be put into better shape than it is at the moment," Reform leader Kaja Kallas said.

Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"Loan money must be used to make investments that will take us forward and increase wellbeing in the future. Distribution of state funds must stand on a fair and just footing, and not depend on who are close to those in power," Kallas went on.

Reform has criticized the Center-EKRE-Isamaa coalition's reliance on borrowing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

SDE: Guaranteed care home places and better sick pay conditions

SDE MP and former health minister Riina Sikkut said that care home places for the elderly should be guaranteed.

"Our proposal has it that the state would compensate the remaining cost of a place in a care home not covered by the individual's pension. In other words, people in need must get a place in a care home for their pension," Sikkut said, via spokespeople.

This would cost around €40 million, SDE says.

SDE also wants to see better sick pay provisions in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It has been recommended that people exhibiting preliminary virus symptoms remain at home in order to prevent the spread of the virus. However, the first three sick days are not compensated. As a result, low-income workers jeopardize their ability to cope to preserve other people's health. The government is stalling on the decision despite the spread of the virus intensifying and new outbreaks emerging at workplaces, even though the need to compensate the first sick days has been publicly confirmed," Riina Sikkut said.

Riina Sikkut (SDE). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

This proposal would cost the state around €30 million euros, according to calculations by the Ministry of Finance.

The coalition has in principle agreed to cut the no-sick pay period from three days to one, with employers then covering four days and the state taking over from then, but nothing concrete has been announced.

Individual SDE MPs have also proposed the provision of organic food in schools, supporting local governments in planning cycle lanes, making the minimum wage and the average pension income tax- exempt, and seeing the transitional support intended for farmers included in the state budget.

Reform: Municipalities should be free to decide how to spend money themselves

One of Reform's pet peeves, the so-called protection, or roof money, distributed by the major parties to regional projects of their choice but which Reform opts out of, would be better used to support tourism, the party says, to the tune of €24 million.

Reform MP Maris Lauri said: "We want the money to be used for ensuring the competitiveness of the Estonian tourism sector in the future and for necessary changes for this to be made," noting that the government has no concrete plans to support the sector hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the capital.

The protection money would be converted into harmonization and support funds, and then equally distributed among municipalities for use at their own discretion, under Reform's plan.

Reform MP Maris Lauri. Source: ERR

Lauri, who is deputy chair of the Riigikogu finance committee, said Reform's proposals would reduce wastage of state funds and their distribution on political bases.

Reform would also close down the office of the population minister, introduced under the April 2019 coalition agreement which Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa signed, and currently occupied by Riina Solman (Isamaa).

The post's activities would be allocated back into individual ministries, under Reform's scheme.

Reform also wants pensions to be income-tax exempt, something which the party says the government has promised but not delivered on.

Another Reform cornerstone policy, unified Estonian-only education, would require €1.5 million to get underway, the party says.

Reform: Budget should be balanced by 2023

Reform, who pursued a policy of austerity under Andrus Ansip during and after the last economic crisis over a decade ago, also stressed balanced budget, saying this should be achieved by 2023.

"The deficit of the Estonian state budget will grow by more than in any other EU country in 2021. Whereas in other countries an improvement in budgetary balance is forecast compared with 2020, in Estonia a growth in budgetary deficit lies ahead," the explanatory memorandum attached to the party's proposals read.

"This is in a situation where the health related and economic developments in Estonia in 2020 have been better than expectations and forecasts and also the economic [growth] forecast for 2021 is a rather strong 4.5 percent," the memorandum continued.

Reform also proposes a center for applied research to be established, to help the know-how created in the universities to better find its way to businesses. 

Reform and SDE between them have 44 seats, insufficient to vote down the budget bill at the 101-seat Riigikogu without several coalition MPs joining them.

The state budget bill for 2021, unveiled at the end of September, will see its readings between now and year-end, with a view to passing, with or without amendments, in December.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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