[EDITORIALS]Balanced, but burdensomeNext year’s national budget request has been approved by the cabinet. The highlights of the draft budget include increases in social welfare and national defense spending, while drastically reducing expenditures on social overhead capital and investment for small and medium industries. We applaud the balanced budget the administration is proposing; it would be the second year in a row that Seoul would not have to issue any new bonds to cover deficit spending. Considering the reality that our economy is mired in recession, however, we are worried that the government may be neglecting sound financial management in its obsession with the expansion of welfare benefits.
The government has greatly increased its welfare budget since the beginning of the Kim Dae-jung administration, and it will give that sector a 9-percent increase next year, the largest for any budget category. Child-care spending will rise by almost half. But government investments to increase the competitiveness of our firms has been cut by more than a tenth.
It is necessary to consider the needs of the poor, but if our economy cannot create jobs, unemployment and poverty will never be rooted out. That will only happen when the economy revives. It seems likely that the boost in welfare spending is connected with next year’s Assembly elections; otherwise it would appear very shortsighted.
Although the defense budget will rise 8 percent next year, it will still be short of the goal of spending 3 percent of gross domestic product on defense. For the changes that will follow the repositioning of U.S. troops here, only 100 billion won ($87 million) has been allocated. Trillions of won will be needed to finance the cost of troop transfers and to upgrade our defense capabilities. Defense will be a big burden to the nation.
Although the budget is balanced, the tax burden will increase. If taxes go up while incomes stagnate, the burden on workers, especially salaried workers, will be much heavier. All this must be sorted out by the Assembly and waste eliminated. Pork-barrel politics have no place in budget deliberations.