Politicians question coalition's tax-reform proposal

  • 2005-02-16
  • By TBT staff
TALLINN - Leading politicians have expressed further doubt over the current government's stability, referring to the presumably inevitable crisis that lies behind the Reform Party-promoted tax reform.

Now that the foreign minister scandal has been laid to rest, the government's main tests this spring will be to find money for the Health Insurance Fund, parental allowances and the so-called sugar fine 's a consequence of entering the EU with excessive stocks of sugar.

These three expenditure articles would require about 100 million euros, though a deadline for the sugar payment has not been confirmed.

According to Finance Minister Taavi Veskimagi, Estonia presumably can avoid paying the sugar fine this year if it appeals the European Commission's ruling. If this fails, the ministry has already booked approximately 20 million euros from the government reserve.

Estonia has a reserve fund of about 3 billion kroons (over 191 million euros), thanks to the surplus budgets of previous years.

MP Indrek Raudne told the Eesti Paevaleht daily that it would be difficult to work the Reform Party's tax cut into the national budget for 2006, a project the government will start working on in several months. "The coalition agreement has to be considered as a whole. The Reform Party wants to carry out the tax reform at the expense of raising indirect taxes, which would speed up inflation. This would threaten the adoption of the euro," said Raudne.

Both Res Publica and the People's Union have certain promises to be implemented at the expense of budget funds. Res Publica plans to lobby for a tax discount for sport activities, while the People's Union wants extra tax relief for families with more than two children.

Prior to last week's crisis, Juhan Parts' Cabinet experienced more turmoil when the People's Union demanded to postpone the income-tax cut in autumn 2003. The coalition then agreed to postpone the tax cut for one year.

According to the currently valid coalition agreement, the income-tax rate will be decreasing by two percent every year while the tax-free minimum grows.

Villu Reiljan, chairman of the People's Union, said the issue of taxes needed to be discussed. "The question is not in the tax reform, which is not an aim in itself. The question is how to cover the promises of the coalition agreement," he said. "By far not everything has to be tax money. There are problems not with the budget but with the development of the state. The budget must serve the development of the state."

"One day this government will step down anyway. Maybe it will really do so in two years. Unfortunately, it is true that our opposition is weak and splintered," said Reiljan, though admitting that the coalition still had room for development.

The People's Union failed to take sides in the recent crisis surrounding sacked Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, who is a member of the Reform Party.

"Ansip's justifications were not worse than those of the others," Reiljan said.