Might outweighs reasonOnly might prevails in the Seoul Metropolitan Council. The Democratic Party is flexing its muscle to push ahead with major bills by taking advantage of its overwhelming majority - there are 79 councilors from the DP as opposed to 29 from the Grand National Party. Yesterday the city council passed next year’s budget of approximately 20 trillion won ($17.7 billion) after increasing the total by a whopping 370.8 billion won, which includes 69.5 billion won for free lunch programs at schools.
However, the law on local autonomy clearly prohibits local councils from raising the budget or imposing a new tax without the consent of a local government head. The DP councilors’ action is therefore very dangerous. Their attempts to propel their own agenda amount to a direct intrusion on the city government.
The city council also drastically cut the 396.6 billion won budget for 197 projects - including construction of a waterway leading to the Yellow Sea and an art island in the Han River - which the Seoul Metropolitan Government has aggressively pursued in order to enhance the image of the city and raise its competitiveness. We wonder whether the DP slashed the budget solely for political reasons.
The conflict between the Seoul city government and city council stems from a controversial free lunch program for city schools. We have repeatedly advised the council to approach the issue as prudently as possible, because the program will provide free meals even to students from rich households while leaving the city’s poor educational environment intact. But the DP took an emotional approach to the issue, claiming that it’s a matter of giving food to our children.
Nothing is free. The tens of billions of won to be spent on free school meals each year will eventually accumulate and cost taxpayers a huge amount of money. If the DP wants to mislead the public by covering up an inconvenient truth, it deserves condemnation for its populism. Defying the suggestion of several civic groups to hold a public debate on the free lunch program, the DP has rushed the budget bill through.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to file a suit against the city council to nullify the passage of next year’s budget before its implementation. Although the Seoul government is also responsible for the stalemate, the DP is not free from criticism either. We hope that the party will scrap its arbitrary behavioral pattern next year and take a step forward through negotiation and compromise.