The 2018 state budget bill passed the first reading in the Riigikogu despite sharp criticism by the opposition. The deadline for amendment proposals was set for November 1.
“This budget supports the growth of our economy, security, and the well-being of our families in such a way that it is close to balanced, the tax burden will not increase, the debt burden will decrease, and the state’s finances will be in good condition also at the end of 2018,” Minister of Finance Toomas Toniste (IRL) said introducing the budget to the Riigikogu.
Toniste has been answering questions of opposition MPs for two hours. The Riigikogu voted to put the budget to a second reading. President of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor (SDE) set the deadline for amendment proposals for the bill for November 1.
Chairman of the Riigikogu’s Financial Committee, Mihhail Stalnuhhin (Center), said this was the first time the state budget surpassed EUR 10 billion and that additional money would be given to all areas of government, ranging from education to agriculture.
“For years the Reform Party has tried to claim that decreasing wages and support or stagnation is in the interest of a good thing, this being a balanced state budget. All in all, nobody benefited from that policy. Today, we have the opportunity to offer what the governments led by the Reform Party took away from people,” Stalnuhhin said.
He added that all the ministries would benefit from the next year’s budget.
“The Ministry of Education and Research will receive EUR 135 million in additional funding, including a EUR 48 million increase in the salary fund of teachers. The average wage of teachers will be raised to EUR 1,380 per month. An additional EUR 34 million will be contributed to healthcare next year, which among other things will also shorten waiting lists for specialist doctors,” Stalnuhhin said.
Stalnuhhin also pointed out that the volume of investments would increase and surpass EUR 1 billion next year.
The parliamentary group of the opposition Reform Party proposed to send the budget bill back to the government. Party chairman Hanno Pevkur said that a budget deficit was not permissible, especially in a time of economic growth.
Altogether 36 of the Riigikogu’s members voted for sending the bill back to the government. 52 voted against the motion, the parliament’s press office announced. The proposal wasn’t backed, and the first reading of the bill was completed.
The size of expenditures and investments set out in the budget bill is EUR 10.58 billion with a projected revenue of EUR 10.33 billion. Expenditures and investments increase by EUR 922 million or 9.5%, and revenue by EUR 986 million or 10.6% compared to the current year.
The budget builds on the four major objectives identified in the fiscal strategy that the government adopted in spring: promote economic growth, increase the population of Estonia, strengthen security, and increase the welfare and cohesion of society.
The state budget for the next year is expecting economic growth to be 3.3%. The budgeted deficit is 0.25%. (ERR/Business World Magazine)