Assembly met its deadline but…
For the first time in 12 years, the National Assembly passed next year’s budget before the Dec. 2 deadline. Despite squabbling most of the year over political issues, the National Assembly approved the 2015 fiscal budget of 375.4 trillion won ($336 billion) on Tuesday. Over the past 12 years, the budget bill and auxiliary bills have missed the deadline because they were often taken hostage for political purpose. The government proposal was automatically put forward to the plenary session according to the National Assembly Advance Law which bans the majority party from railroading bills but makes exceptions for the annual budget bill. Nevertheless, the passage of the bill within the deadline without the usual physical clash and railroading was a rare and pleasant scene at the National Assembly.
The budget was passed after it was scaled down by 600 billion won from the government’s original proposal. The National Assembly cut 3.6 trillion won then added 3 trillion won elsewhere. Overall, the budget is an increase of 19.6 trillion won, or 5.5 percent from the 2014 budget of 355.8 trillion won. The government’s proposed spending plans for next year with a focus on welfare remained more or less intact. Of the auxiliary bills, the proposal to revise the inheritance law was rejected despite bipartisan agreement. Some heavyweight lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition camps also used their influence to increase spending on their constituencies.
Review of the budget plans also could not have been thorough because the legislature, which was criticized throughout the year for negligence, rushed to meet the deadline. The assembly started its review a month after it received the set of bills from the government. The review process was interrupted periodically due to disputes over government subsidies for universal welfare programs. Close studies of the feasibility of various state projects and financial means could not have taken place. If the legislature runs short on time, it cannot put its best effort into putting taxpayers’ money to good use. Instead they bargained and made deals to finish the process in time. In this way, the lawmakers have not been able to draw up a good budget plan for the people and country.
It is important to meet the legal deadline to pass the budget. But next year, the legislature should raise the bar for itself and actually devote sufficient time to studying the plans to come up with the best possible budget.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 4, Page 34