State budget puts heavy emphasis on public works

After considering 200 amendments that lasted until 4:15 in the morning on December 7, the Slovak Parliament approved the 1997 budget by a vote of 95 to 15. The government's fiscal plan - which includes expenditures of 208 billion Sk, revenues of 171.1 billion Sk and a deficit of 36.9 billion Sk - heavily emphasizes public works projects such as highway, housing and water works construction. "I'm completely satisfied. It's a good budget," Finance Minister Sergej Kozlík said after the marathon votes.
The government plans to spend 14 billion Sk to raise its highways network to European Union levels, and allot another 5 billion Sk for new housing, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar said before Parliament took up the budget.

After considering 200 amendments that lasted until 4:15 in the morning on December 7, the Slovak Parliament approved the 1997 budget by a vote of 95 to 15.

The government's fiscal plan - which includes expenditures of 208 billion Sk, revenues of 171.1 billion Sk and a deficit of 36.9 billion Sk - heavily emphasizes public works projects such as highway, housing and water works construction. "I'm completely satisfied. It's a good budget," Finance Minister Sergej Kozlík said after the marathon votes.

The government plans to spend 14 billion Sk to raise its highways network to European Union levels, and allot another 5 billion Sk for new housing, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar said before Parliament took up the budget.

Much of that planned spending will come from state bond issues totalling 8 billion Sk, with 5 billion Sk going to the highway program, 2 billion Sk toward establishing an export bank, and the remaining 1 billion Sk for more public housing.

The government's projected revenue raised eyebrows at the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS). "Contrary to the 1997 state budget draft, the NBS expects a significant slowdown in economic growth next year which could make it difficult to meet revenue goals," said the Central Bank's spokesman, Ján Onda. The government based its budget blueprint on GDP growth of 6 percent (660 billion Sk), a 6 percent inflation rate and unemployment between 11 and 12 percent.

The concentration of spending on public works programs has been criticized by at least one newspaper columnist, who labelled it "a dangerous game." "The government asserts that we have to connect quickly with the European highway network, or else we are not taking full advantage of Slovakia's geographic position," wrote Vladimír Tvaroška for the Pravda daily. "It is impossible to spend several billion Sk on highway construction and simultaneously modernize the economy."

Deputies also voted to increase revenues by 1.1 billion Sk by obliging the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) to pay taxes on its income. At the same time, MPs increased outlays by the same amount, thus keeping the projected deficit at 36.9 billion Sk, which is up from the planned 1996 deficit of 27 billion Sk.

"We've been working on this thing since the spring," said one veteran Finance Ministry official who helped craft the budget. "And these people just decided to spend an additional billion like that without even specifying what would be the purpose.''

The 200 amendments tacked on to the bill for consideration were fashioned over two days; while opposition deputies requested that Parliament adjourn until December 10 to consider the motherlode of additions, coalition deputies insisted that the chamber vote on all the measures that evening.

One of the results from the rapid-fire voting was that a proposal to allot 70 million Sk to build a road from the eastern Slovak town of Kežmarok to a hotel owned by Jana Gartnerová, a deputy from the majority party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), was approved, while a request from an opposition MP to give 20 million Sk to repair an orphanage in east Slovakia was turned down.

"This is unbelievably hideous," said a teary-eyed Marcela Gburová from the Democratic Union, who proposed the orphanage measure. "These people have no shame.''

şşThey make me sick," said Brigita Schmögnerova, former deputy prime minister for the economy from the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ). "One could spend her best years doing something truly useful and not wasting time in this institution.''

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