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Budget looks set for smooth passage

A DRAFT that usually promises nightmares and conflicts between the ruling partners has been on the cabinet table since mid-August, and observers expect the coalition trio - Smer, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party - to reach an agreement on state coffer plans without major disputes.

A DRAFT that usually promises nightmares and conflicts between the ruling partners has been on the cabinet table since mid-August, and observers expect the coalition trio - Smer, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party - to reach an agreement on state coffer plans without major disputes.

Slovakia's state budget for 2008 projects Sk345.953 billion in revenues and Sk370.171 billion in expenditures, with a deficit of Sk24.2 billion, according to the draft law on the state budget that the Finance Ministry submitted on August 15. (At press time, €1 was equivalent to Sk33.743 - Editor's note.)

This year Slovakia expects a deficit of Sk38.386 billion, with revenues of Sk310.472 billion, and Sk348.858 billion in expenditures.

"There will be intense negotiations about the state budget," Prime Minister Robert Fico told the press. "Talking about any numbers today is rather preliminary."

The Finance Ministry will strive to keep the government deficit under 2.3 percent of GDP in 2008, even after the expenses of the pension reform are added in. That would be a 0.6 percentage point drop from 2007.

Keeping the deficit below three percent is crucial for Slovakia's ambitions to meet the Maastricht criteria and adopt the euro in January 2009.

Of all the ministries, defense and interior are the only ones that can expect major budget increases compared to this year.

The Interior Ministry is expected to receive Sk24.7 billion, up from its Sk22.2-billion budget this year. However, the ministry said that the sum is still below what it realistically needs.

"We need to purchase new technology for screening biometric data and develop the integrated rescue system, which will call for considerable resources," Silvia Miháliková of the ministry told the TASR newswire.

The Defense Ministry is supposed to get Sk31.7 billion, which is Sk2.7 billion more than in 2007.

Though the country has declared it a national priority to achieve a knowledge-based economy, the new draft budget allots only 3.5 percent more for the Education Ministry.

The ministry is slated to receive Sk53.16 billion, which will not be enough to cover all its needs, ministry spokeswoman Viera Trpišová told The Slovak Spectator.

The ministry mainly needs more money to cover the needs of regional schools, so that their teachers' average salaries match national levels by 2010, and to secure free education for five-year-old children at kindergartens, Trpišová said.

"More funds are also needed for universities and science so that the state can support young scientists and doctoral students," Trpišová told The Slovak Spectator.

The ministry will also need more funding to support Slovak athletes preparing for the Olympic Games in Beijing, she added.

Agriculture Minister Miroslav Jureňa, a nominee of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), has been crying foul over the draft budget. His ministry said that the draft does not reflect the government's official agenda, which pledged to secure "the competitiveness and sustainability of agriculture, food processing and forestry," according to an official statement provided to The Slovak Spectator.

The 2008 state budget proposes Sk14.5 billion for direct payments to farmers, which is Sk3.6 billion less than in this year's budget, Roľnícke Noviny wrote.

"The ministry fundamentally disagrees with the expense limits set for the department," the Agriculture Ministry concluded.

The Economy Ministry expects to see Sk7.2 billion flowing into its coffers, which is Sk200 million less than this year. The biggest portion of the money, Sk5.8 billion, is earmarked for supporting businesses in Slovakia and the development of industry.

The Ministry of Construction and Regional Development is set to receive almost Sk8.8 billion, which is a drop of Sk700 million compared to this year's budget. The ministry's revenues of Sk1.9 billion next year are expected to primarily come from European Union funds, the SITA newswire wrote. The ministry will focus on housing development support, with Sk7.4 billion going to that area.

Sk26.24 billion has been planned for the Transport Ministry, which is Sk1.021 billion lower than its budget for this year.

However, the cabinet ministers agreed that none of the objections presented by the ministries represent unsolvable problems.

Of the political parties, the HZDS has been the least content with the budget plans presented by Finance Minister Ján Počiatek.

"The budgets for the ministries led by our nominees are too small," HZDS deputy chair Milan Urbani told the SITA newswire. "We are going to fight to have them increased. We are going to negotiate and argue, as well."

Last year, the state budget was passed rather smoothly, with 82 deputies voting for it. The last budget crafted by the government of Mikuláš Dzurinda only made it through parliament thanks to the votes of independent members. The budget vote, in fact, led to suspicions about the former ruling coalition making vote-trading deals.

With files from Marta Ďurianová

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