Hans Väre: Reform caught lying at elections, and it is a good thing

Sakala Editor-in-Chief Hans Väre.
Sakala Editor-in-Chief Hans Väre. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Perhaps politicians will finally wake from their magical slumber in which every promise one can think of is included in elections programs without any effort to demonstrate how the taxpayer can afford them, Hans Väre finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

The fact that the Reform Party promised not to hike taxes before elections and is now busy laying down new ones and hiking income tax and VAT has been discussed at length by now.

We can also glance over Reform Party leaders Kaja Kallas and Mart Võrklaev's explanations according to which talking about taxes prior to elections is the same as putting tax matters up for referendum, which amounts to disingenuous demagogy and does our leaders no credit. Pre-election tax debates have absolutely nothing to do with the constitutional ban on deciding taxes at referendums.

Claims according to which the Reform Party and the Social Democrats, both members of the outgoing government, were not up to speed with state finances only come across credible to those who also believe that Santa climbs down the chimney to bring them presents. Perhaps Eesti 200, for which this is the first time at the helm, can afford to be minimally blue-eyed here, while any more naivety would surely render them unfit to govern.

Therefore, I could also wheel out my cannon of criticism here and shoot, saying that the coalition is not one of painful decisions, as its members have declared in the spirit of martyrdom, but one of lies... The only question that remains is whether an alternative coalition would have said or done anything different?

The Social Democrats were the only ones who dared offset their flurry of promises by making mention of the necessity of tax hikes. While the Parempoolsed (who did not make the Riigikogu – ed.) sported a rather conservative fiscal approach, the part of their program dealing with such matters was published so late as to leave the Finance Ministry too little time for analysis, meaning that we never got the full picture of what they were proposing.

The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and the Center Party, as the biggest critics of looming tax hikes, are by no means free of sin.

EKRE's approach was traditionally populist. The party promised tremendous support and benefits, all of which would be paid for simply through growth of GDP. Budget revenue was meant to grow as a result of slashing taxes, with EKRE's frontrunner in Viljandi and Järva counties Jaak Madison giving the example of how slashing the excise duty on alcohol boosted revenue when EKRE were in office.

While the move did end cross-border trade [with Latvia], budget revenue fell instead. Revenue from the duty on alcohol fell from €235 million in 2018 to €226 million in 2019 and €213 million in 2020. Had EKRE come to power and wished to make good on even a part of its promises, the party would also have had to hike taxes or take out a huge loan to cover fixed costs. The latter option would not have benefited the Estonian people in any way.

While the Center Party's program included switching to a progressive income tax system in Estonia, its member Jaak Aab admitted the financial effect of this would amount to very little in the short term. Aab said in an interview to [local paper] Sakala that while Estonia needs to hike its tax burden, the other parties are reluctant to talk about it. Asked why Center's program made no mention of new taxes either, Aab had this to say: "I'm sure you would like it if we wrote down all the new taxes like simpletons, even though no one else is."

One can only wonder at Center wondering why the Reform Party was reluctant to play the role of "simpletons" instead.

Martin Kukk, former Reform Party secretary general, who took to Twitter to criticize his one-time allies, urged voters and the press to also take a look in the mirror, next to politicians, in terms of why parties were not taken to task over how they planned to pay for promises. While self-criticism would not go amiss in journalistic circles from time to time, it is impossible to agree with Kukk's particular piece of criticism.

The question, "Where will you get the money to pay for your promises?" was among the most frequently asked during interviews and debates, while it never merited more than vague muttering in terms of a reply. Whereas the voter was hardly given much choice as this chorus of ambivalent utterances transcended parties. Not for the first time either. From one election to the next, we are only presented with one half of the equation, as ways to pay for expenses are described vaguely or on the level of such euphemisms as, "We will put together a zero-budget."

No, the aforementioned look in the mirror needs to come from parties themselves, and not just Reform either. That is why I am glad the issue of taxes was so prominently on the agenda this time around.

Perhaps politicians will finally wake from their magical slumber in which every promise one can think of is included in elections programs without any effort to demonstrate how the taxpayer can afford them. That is usually the modus operandi of children who get their hands on a toy catalogue and start pointing out things they want. "This! And that one! And this too!" while their parents' or in this case the taxpayer's wallet seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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