Lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies passed the state budget for 2018 on Tuesday, approving last-minute additions including more funds for social services, farming and food processing. The Social Democrats who led the previous government which put the proposal in motion, expressed satisfaction there would also be brighter days ahead for education. Not all are happy, however, over the proposed deficit.
Approval of the state budget for 2018 on Tuesday was preceded by some six hours of debate in the lower house of Parliament but in the end passed easily, getting support from 140 of 199 MPs present. The bill was submitted by the country’s new minority government led by ANO, but was largely the handiwork of the former cabinet which had been made up of the Social Democrats, ANO, and the Christian Democrats.
Andrej Babiš, named as prime minister at the beginning of December, said he was satisfied with the bill approved although he went to pains to say that if his cabinet of ANO and unaffiliated ministers had been the ones to put it together, there would have been differences.
“I am happy that we have reached an agreement [on the budget and on the deficit] and that the bill passed. Of course, our new government had little influence because there was too little time to have pushed through any changes. Even so, I am glad it was approved.”
The Social Democrats, not surprisingly, backed the budget proposal but support was contingent also on a last minute financial injection for social services as well as continued boosts for the education sector. Former education minister Kateřina Valachová explained:
“I am happy that we were able, as Social Democrats, to guarantee and secure funds for social workers so that they stop giving up jobs at homes for seniors and so that everyone should have social services available close by. And we are satisfied that the budget for education will grow several years in a row.”
An extra 300 million crowns for the social services was also welcomed by the other partner in the former government, the Christian Democrats. Leader Pavel Bělobrádek said this:
“I am glad that the boost to social services passed in at least in a compromise variant. It was a priority for us in order to back the state budget as a whole.”
The 2018 budget is counting on revenues of 1314.5 billion crowns and the expenditures of 1364.5 billion; a deficit of some 50 billion, at a time of continuing economic growth, is what irks members of Civic Democrats and TOP 09, which tried to push through a curb on spending and failed and on Tuesday voted against. Civic Democrat leader Petr Fiala said, in his view, the bill came up short and failed to prepare for ‘rainy days’.
“In our view this budget is not ambitious enough given current economic growth, it is not efficient considering current growth, and it is deaf and blind to the fact that growth will not continue forever.”
By contrast members of the Communist Party and Freedom and Direct Democract backed the bill.