Assembly faces another taxi test

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Assembly faces another taxi test

President Lee Myung-bak has vetoed a controversial bill to subsidize the taxi industry. He upheld a cabinet motion and asked the legislature to reconsider the costly bill that had the support of the both ruling and opposition parties before the presidential election.

We back the president in his move because nowhere else in the world do taxies receive government subsidies as public transportation. The bill would have cost taxpayers 1.9 trillion won ($1.78 billion) a year, and it would not have improved the fundamental problem of oversupply.

The benefits may ease financial insecurity for 300,000 taxi drivers, but most of the government funds would end up in their employers’ pockets. The preferential treatment could also spur protests from the ferry, bus and passenger plane industries. Self-employed businesses could also demand similar state subsidies and benefits.

It is also important to note that taxpayers themselves are opposed to the plan as are local governments, which would have to share the financial burden of the subsidies. It seems clear that our lawmakers single-handedly sided with the taxi industry to get votes ahead of elections last year.

The president vetoed the plan to protect the interests of taxpayers and the country. But his decision might not stop the over-the-top legislation. The National Assembly could override the veto if it receives two-thirds support from at least half of 300 members. This is quite possible because the bill was originally approved by 222 lawmakers. The opposition Democratic United Party promised a revote, and the ruling Saenuri Party plans to join if necessary.

The ball is in the legislative court once again. The National Assembly should think deeply this time about the backlash if it pushes ahead with legislation that most people oppose. It also would have to brace for further demands from other industries based on this legislation. The taxi industry vowed to stage a general strike if the legislation is scrapped, and other interest groups could learn from the collective action. The public interest and the Assembly would then be at the mercy of these special interest groups.

The government proposed an alternate bill to aid the taxi industry while still excluding it from the category of public transportation. The proposed law would instead rationalize taxi rates and subsidize a scale-down in taxi numbers.

The new plan is clearly better and more feasible in a number of ways. Before holding a revote on the original bill, the legislature should review the alternative proposal. It should not make the mistake of dismissing the government’s opposition again.

We ask lawmakers to put public interest first when voting. It is their constitutional duty.

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