San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

National Budget for 2006 Approved in Assembly

LEGISLATORS have approved a national budgetfor 2006 that finances nearly half of its expenditureswith borrowed funds and goes light on socialspending. The budget was approved in second debateTuesday with 49 legislators present – 31 voted infavor, mostly from the National Liberation Party(PLN) and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC),and 18 voted against, mostly from the LibertarianMovement, the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and thePatriotic Union (UP).The budget was approved automatically, withouta vote, in first debate Sunday, the last day theLegislative Assembly had by law to approve the budgetin first debate. According to internal assemblyrules, if the budget does not reach a vote by the dateset by law, it passes automatically, which it did aftertwo legislators broke quorum and prevented the vote.“I was one of the ones who broke quorum,” legislatorand Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)presidential hopeful Ricardo Toledo told The TicoTimes on Tuesday. “There were some motions thatwould have damaged the national budget. If they hadpassed, we would have had a lack of balance in the budget, and that is very dangerous.”TOLEDO expressed contentment withthe ¢2.7 trillion ($5.5 billion) budget, 53%of which is financed by tax income and47% by borrowing.“I’m very satisfied, and I believe thegovernment, Finance Minister (DavidFuentes) and everybody is satisfied withhow it ended up,” Toledo said.Other legislators who spoke with TheTico Times, however, were not as exuberant,including members of Toledo’s ownparty. Olman Vargas, also of Unity andpresident of the Finance Committee thatstudied the budget, told The Tico Timesthe budget was the best they could do withthe finances available.“We tried to increase the resources forsocial spending, education, infrastructureand the health sector,” Vargas said. In total,legislators redirected ¢36.5 billion ($74.2million) away from payments on the country’sinternational debt to pay for theseincreases in social spending, which, in fact,puts Costa Rica further into debt, he said.TERESITA Aguilar, a PAC legislatorand Finance Committee member, toldThe Tico Times that she and other membersof her party voted against the budgetbecause “we do not agree with approvinga budget that does not correspond to theneeds of the country.”She accused legislators from the majorityLiberation and Unity parties of trying todivert funds to public works in their hometownsto win political support. She addedthat the 2006 budget cuts spending to education,health and security.According to a breakdown of the budgetprovided by Aguilar, the ministries ofPublic Health, Public Security, PublicEducation and Justice all received the sameamount or more money on paper than in2005; however, when adjusted for inflation,all receive less funding.The budget now goes to PresidentAbel Pacheco for his signature beforebecoming law.LAST year, controversy over the budgetdidn’t end with its approval. Then-Finance Minister Federico Carrillo said thedocument is a guideline for the ministry indistributing funds, not a mandate (TT, Oct.29). This statement was ill-received by legislatorsand contributed to months of strugglesbetween advocates of social spendingand fiscal austerity.Current minister Fuentes, however,who replaced Carrillo earlier this year, hadnot made a public response to the new budgetby press time.

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