Let’s begin the tax debate

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Let’s begin the tax debate

The association of the nation’s education office chiefs announced they cannot continue funding universal day care programs for toddlers. Governors and mayors also declared they could no longer fund universal welfare programs unless the central government increased subsidies.

The group of education officials said it will not earmark spending to subsidize the free day care system for 3- to 5-year-olds under the Nuri program. The education offices are responsible for 2.14 trillion won ($1.99 billion) of the 3.93 trillion won needed to finance the national program, which supports kindergartens and day care centers for preschool-aged children. Under the program, the state pays 220,000 won a month for each child younger than 5 for their day care and pre-schooling. There are 1.27 million children who benefit from the subsidy.

The education superintendents said day care centers are related to child care and are not for educational purposes, so the education office does not need to support them. Starting next year, the central government will withdraw its support for the Nuri program. The education offices will have to shoulder the extra 20.3 percent of funding for the program that was previously paid through taxes.

The education chiefs’ argument is reasonable. But it is not a pretty sight for state offices to toss around responsibility for welfare funding. The central and local governments have always fought over welfare finance and now the education offices have joined the brawl. To the people, it doesn’t matter where the money comes from.

But the local governments and education offices are taking the weaker people - elderly and young children - hostage in order to get more central funding. Politicians started the race for welfare programs. Populist campaign promises have led the government to accelerate programs, including child care and basic allowances for senior citizens. Both ruling and opposition parties did not care about where the money would come from.

There are now only two ways to solve the conundrum: increase public revenue and rationalize expenditures. Tax revenue cannot be raised through the collection of unregistered taxes or reducing tax deductions. President Park Geun-hye must be honest with the people and seek their understanding on a tax hike. But increasing taxes on tobacco and automobiles will only anger the public. The government does not need to subsidize all-day day care for children who only need to spend two to three hours in the centers. Instead, more spending should go to renovating old school facilities.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 8, Page 38

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