Free school lunch budget passed in dead of night

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Free school lunch budget passed in dead of night

The Seoul mayor’s office and the city council went into a second round of battle over free lunches at elementary schools when the council at an all-night, secret session earmarked 69.5 billion won ($60.4 million) for the program without consulting the mayor or ruling party council members.

To secure the 69.5 billion won, the council slashed some of Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s signature projects after holding a marathon discussion that started at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and ended at 6:30 a.m. yesterday.

“The Seoul Metropolitan Council violated metropolitan law that requires the council to seek approval from the mayor when they want to increase budget allocations,” Seoul Metropolitan Government Spokesman Lee Jong-hyun told reporters yesterday. “The council only has the authority to review and vote on the bill.”

Lee said the city government will ask the council to reverse the changes and will consider taking the budget issue to the Supreme Court if the changes aren’t made.

In the budget, the council slashed 14 billion won for international promotion of Seoul, 75.2 billion won for a waterway project that aims to boost the Han River’s links with the Yellow Sea and ports in China, and 40.6 billion won for the Han River Arts Island project, which plans to build a landmark opera house and other culture facilities on Nodeul Island in the Han River.

“Of the 20.6 trillion won budget for next year, the council slashed 308.4 billion won, which includes construction and promotion expenses, and instead will use the money for welfare programs for the low-income class, improving education and creating jobs,” Democratic Party councilors said in a press release. “This saves 57.3 billion won.”

Seoul’s government said it will take the matter to court if the council unilaterally creates a budget or allocates money for free school meals.

The DP-controlled council passed a free-lunch bill on Dec. 1 after engaging in physical scuffles with GNP lawmakers, who protested the vote. Mayor Oh asked the council to review its passage of the bill to provide school lunches and the vote will take place on Dec. 29.

By Kim Mi-ju []
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