Opposition ready to do battle over 2016 draft budget

Photo: Hekata 5, CC BY-SA 3.0

The draft bill on the 2016 state budget is due to go into its third and final reading in the lower house on Wednesday. While the government is confident it has the votes to push it through, opposition parties are preparing to do battle, saying that the draft bill is in violation of the law.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The 2016 budget has already seen numerous revisions, most recently a proposed transfer of 44 billion crowns to be spent on the army, border protection, education and social services. Despite the last minute shift of priorities triggered mainly by the migrant crisis, Finance Minister Andrej Babis has been able to maintain the set goal – a deficit of CZK 70 billion, i.e. 30 billion lower than this year’s.

While the finance minister is confident that he has kept spending in check, opposition parties are ready to do battle. Apart from criticism from right wing parties that spending is too generous at a time of economic growth, critics point to the fact that the 2016 budget proposal is based on legislation that has not yet been approved. For instance, the finance minister reckons on an additional 2 billion crowns in state revenues from the bill on electronic cash registers which should improve tax collection; a bill that opposition parties have vowed to block for as long as possible by filibustering and any other administrative means at their disposal. There are other loose ends as well, for instance it is not clear where the government will find the money for a promised one-off bonus for pensioners to be paid out in February. The head of TOP 09 Miroslav Kalousek says that the budget is not based on real figures and that including revenues from a bill that has not been approved is unprecedented and unacceptable.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Of course, I will table a reservation to this practice, it is in violation of the law and the government above all should have respect for the law.”

The TOP 09 leader says he will ask Parliament to return the bill to the cabinet for a re-write. The motion is likely to win support from both the Civic Democrats, who have loudly accused the government of squandering public finances, and the Communist Party which says it is not willing to back a legislation that violates established financial norms.

Finance Minister Andrej Babis has dismissed the criticism, saying that if it were not for the filibustering of right wing parties in the lower house last week the bill on electronic registers would now have been approved. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has backed his cabinet minister saying that the bill optimally meets the country’s needs, respects the need to progressively reduce the deficit in state spending and that he sees no reason to revise it.

“I think Czech citizens can easily see who is making obstructions here, and who it was who said that the bill on electronic cash registers would never pass through the lower house.”

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: archive of Czech Government
Although the government is likely to face a volley of criticism in the lower house this week and possibly another round of filibustering, technically it has the votes to push the 2016 budget proposal through the lower house. And the prime minister is confident that given the healthy state of the economy and the better than expected outcome from the 2015 state budget the Cabinet will find the money to meet all its commitments.