Yes to lunches, no to opera house

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Yes to lunches, no to opera house

The Seoul Metropolitan Council, which is under the control of the Democratic Party, passed next year’s 20.5 trillion won ($18 billion) budget yesterday. The city’s budget includes 69.5 billion won for free school lunches and slashed some of Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s pet projects.

The budget was 25.7 billion won less than what Oh’s Seoul Metropolitan Government wanted.

The bill was passed after midnight by 76 DP councilors, while Oh’s council colleagues from the Grand National Party boycotted the vote.

To earmark 69.5 billion won for free school lunches, DP councilors cut budgets for Oh’s key projects without consulting the mayor or GNP councilors.

“We maintained budgets for welfare programs for the underprivileged and to stabilize people’s livelihood, and we slashed budgets for events and festivals,” said Oh Pil-keun, chairman of the Budget and Accounts Committee.

“As a result, budgets for Design Seoul, the Han River Arts Island and international promotions are reduced.”

The council cut 14 billion won for the international promotion of Seoul, 75.2 billion won for a waterway project 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 is supposed to construct an opera house and other culture facilities on Nodeul Island in the river.

Seoul Metropolitan Government spokesman Lee Jong-hyun said yesterday that the city government will take the budget to the Supreme Court.

Oh had threatened court action if the DP modified the budget without consulting Oh and GNP councilors.

“The Seoul Metropolitan Government won’t implement an illegally increased budget for school meals,” Lee said. “The council violated a law governing autonomous governments that bans regional councils from increasing the budget without seeking agreement from its mayor, and it railroaded a budget for school meals.”

Lee said it’s appropriate to ask the Supreme Court to rule on whether the DP’s procedure was legal or not, since the issue of school meals should be decided by the Seoul education chief, not the mayor.

“It’s very regrettable that the council slashed budgets for Seoul’s development projects because most of them have been underway since the previous mayoral term, and some are even in the final stages,” Lee said. “I want to question who the council represents.

“Seoul, which hovered around 20th place in international urban competitiveness for four years, rose into the top 10. Seoul aims to make further improvements but it’s being blocked by the council.”

Oh told reporters yesterday he might come up with ideas to invite private investment for projects that saw budget cuts.

DP councilors urged Oh yesterday to accept the modified budget.

“The mayor must take responsibility for making things worse, and he should stop ignoring the council and retract his position against free school meals,” the DP’s statement read.

Said DP spokesman Oh Seung-rok: “The DP will fight to the end to make free school meals happen.”


By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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