[EDITORIALS]No opposition, no restraintThe government’s general account budget for this year, which was approved by the National Assembly late last year during the boycott of the opposition Grand National Party, is 144.8 trillion won ($143.7 billion), down 895.3 billion won from the initial proposal. The total budget for the government’s fiscal spending, which includes its spending through special accounts and public funds, was slashed by 1.5 trillion won. One would find it hard to say that there is excessive budget growth, although the legislative cutbacks were a far cry from the 9 trillion-won cut demanded by the Grand National Party.
But the problem will look a lot more serious once you take a closer look at the details of the budget, which was passed one-sidedly by the ruling party. First of all, the ruling party increased the spending for social welfare by 1.3 trillion won, despite criticism within the government over an excessive increase in the social welfare budget. As a result, the share of social welfare spending in the total budget, which was 10.8 percent in the government’s initial proposal, increased to 13.4 percent after the final version of the budget was approved. That may be acceptable during a time when the government enjoys a fiscal surplus. But it is way out of line to significantly increase the social welfare budget when it has to manage a deficit budget for the first time in history. One could raise the suspicion that such an allocation of spending on social welfare was intended to woo voters in the May elections. Spending for research and development projects and infrastructure, which would improve the nation’s economic potential, remained unchanged or was cut sharply.
With the absence of the opposition party, the budget created or increased new spending for public projects for the constituencies of the ruling party’s leading members. The spending for building cultural facilities and local government buildings or renovating local college libraries in such constituencies is mushrooming, resulting in an additional budget increase of 301.6 billion won.
The additional budget for the agricultural sector, 719.9 billion won, may be considered as one of the measures to soothe farmers’ anger after lawmakers passed a bill to double rice imports. The decision to triple the construction budget to build high-speed railroads in the southwestern part of Korea, from 10 billion to 30 billion won, also seems aimed at currying voter favor there.
The ruling party took full advantage of the opposition’s boycott in the budget process. Now the party must take responsibility for the consequences.