Watching their waste-linesThe National Assembly has started looking into a government-proposed supplementary budget to help the public get through the coronavirus crisis. The question is how to cut unnecessary spending from the whopping 512 trillion won ($417.1 billion) budget for this year. The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and opposition parties agreed to cut 1 trillion won from this year’s budget to help pay for 4.6 trillion won in emergency relief grants after the government expanded the scope of recipients to the entire population from the 70 percent of households with the lowest incomes. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle must have serious negotiations to adjust a supplementary budget without partisan interests getting in the way.
DP floor leader Lee In-young promised to thoroughly weed out unreasonable expenditure. Last year, the DP pressed ahead with a 2020 budget full of pork-barrel programs after collaborating with four minor opposition parties and excluding the main opposition United Future Party.
While adding 10 trillion won to the government’s budget bill for their own constituencies, the lawmakers trimmed only 1.2 trillion won from the budget. A minor opposition lawmaker even added 1.4 billion won to the original 725 million won budget allotted to develop a famous temple into a global tourist attraction. Such cases are aplenty. The legislature must prevent such self-indulgent splurging this time.
The National Assembly must also look into 180 trillion won in welfare spending, which accounts for 35 percent of the entire budget for 2020. Aid for the underprivileged is necessary. But once the welfare budget increases, the pace can hardly be stopped. The legislature must cut any unnecessary spending for 12 million recipients of welfare benefits to save at least 20 trillion won.
Welfare needs are bound to increase in the post-coronavirus era. The government will have trouble finding money for the needy if revenues from corporate taxes decline.
Instead of trying to blindly support the socially weak by issuing national debt, the government must double-check if it is spending its budget appropriately. Our past governments were notorious for drawing up budgets carelessly. The National Assembly must correct such practices if it really wants to vindicate its honor.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 28, Page 34