[EDITORIALS]Budget a surplus of failure

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[EDITORIALS]Budget a surplus of failure

After a slugfest, the political parties have agreed on cuts in next year's government budget.

The National Assembly's plenary session Friday authorized 112 trillion won ($86 billion) in new spending, 600 billion won less than the government asked for originally.

Political interests over the content and the size of the bill clashed until the very last minute, highlighting the failure of the National Assembly's budget review.

Particularly notable is the fact that the size of the reduction and provisions in the bill fell short of expectations. Not much could be expected from the governing Millennium Democratic Party, which insisted on increasing government spending from the beginning of the process.

But the opposition Grand National Party cannot escape blame since it did not work very hard to reduce government spending. It had called for as much as 10 trillion won in cuts.

The budget cut of 600 billion won is even less than the 800 billion won cut last year. The Grand National Party emphasizes that it revised the budgets for the National Intelligence Service and the North-South Cooperation Fund for the first time ever. Both had been off limits to lawmakers.

Whether the public will appreciate the combined total of just 18 billion won cut from the two budgets is questionable.

Whether lawmakers properly reviewed items such as personnel expenses and national defense, which make up 65.5 percent of the budget, is another question.

This year, as last year, most of the government's requests were granted. Personnel expenses rose by 9.9 percent on top of a 16.5 percent increase last year.

Most of the budget cuts are on discretionary funds and the interest on bailout funds, money that is likely to be spent anyway through supplementary budgets if the economy declines next year.

The governing party and the opposition clashed over a corporate tax cut, engaging in an unnecessary fight.

The inadequate process through which the budget bill was reviewed should have warned us that the result of the review was going to fall short of expectations.

The government submitted the budget bill in late September after the terrorist attacks in the United States, and the governing and opposition parties promised that the bill would be processed before the regular session ended in early December.

The politicians even went as far as to emphasize how important next year's budget would be since it could buttress a possible downturn in the economy because of the terrorist attacks.

But the reality is different. The National Assembly failed to even form a subcommittee on budget adjustments by the legal deadline of Dec. 2.

Then it convened an extraordinary session and passed the budget bill in just 10 days. Lawmakers also broke the promise that they would open to the public the budget review process, which they had repeatedly pledged since last year.

Reviewing the state budget is one of the most important tasks bestowed on the National Assembly. Political parties themselves have emphasized that one of the ways through which Korea can become a better country is a thorough review of the budget. But every year the budget review process is conducted inadequately. The National Assembly should rekindle the spirit that prevailed when it established a permanent committee on budget and accounts earlier this year.
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