Too much pork on budget menuLawmakers themselves admit that they have no shame. And they proved to be exactly right. While reviewing a government bill proposing a supplementary budget, the budget subcommittee of the Land and Transportation Committee at the National Assembly rubber-stamped an increase in the infrastructure spending share by 430.4 billion won ($387.6 million). Of that sum, 309 billion won would go toward building roads and renovating subway infrastructure in legislative constituencies. That could be seen as an investment in social infrastructure, but in reality they are pork-barrel projects for the lawmakers’ constituencies.
The supplementary budget is being pursued to make up for revenue shortages due to worsening economic prospects. Of the 17.3 trillion won sought, 12 trillion won is earmarked to cover estimated revenue shortfall. The government plans to issue 15.9 trillion won in Treasury debt to finance the extra spending. It is raising debt to meet its budgetary goal, which would end up eroding public finance. The government expects national liabilities to reach 524.3 trillion won in 2016, but the National Assembly Budget Office says it will balloon to 609.5 trillion won. The new debt would pose a huge burden on future generations.
Then the legislature, which has the duty and authority to review and approve the government’s budgetary proposal, should have gone all out to undo the wrong and make it right. By looking at what the lawmakers of the Land and Transportation Committee have done in budgetary review, the adage may be right - “Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”
One lawmaker appropriated 50 billion won for subway construction in his constituency even though such a plan had not been included in the local government’s budget outline. Another lawmaker who criticized the government for seeking “too steep an increase” sought spending to build a pedestrian bypass in his own constituency. The revised proposal, fortunately, was turned down in the higher committee session. The other members had better sense. Other committees may be no different. We must keep our eyes wide open.