Opinion: Little pinpricks

POSTED: 01/16/14 2:52 PM

At the time of this writing, it was still unclear whether Members of Parliament would table any motions, whether they would massively vote for or against one or more items in the budget. But, like in previous years, it seems a foregone conclusion that the budget will be approved.

Was there excitement in the air? Expectation? In a way, the budget debate seemed tamer than in previous years. A little pinprick here, a little pinprick there and that was about it.

There was not much Members of Parliament had to offer. The tradition to table amendments to the budget still has to be born here. Our parliamentarians seem to have a preference for free rolling – which is not to say that they have no valid points to bring up at all. But somehow, our parliament is missing teeth. It has no bite.

We have drama and a few good laughs but when it comes down to the serious stuff, all MPs have to offer is: I will not support this, or I find that unfair. It all has very little influence on the states bookkeeping, if any at all.

A point in case is Louie Laveist’s entirely justified criticism of the proposal by the government to shove its contribution to the healthcare insurance premium on the plate of employees. They will have to pay not 2.1 percent but 4.2 percent premium this year. This way, the government saves 10 million guilders – an amount that will have to be paid entirely by the working class.

It would really help the people our parliamentarians always say to represent, if MPs put alternatives on the table that would take this additional burden away from employees.

To achieve such a feat, an MP would have to find 10 million guilders elsewhere in the budget and say: I propose to take this out of the budget so that the workers do not have to pay the double healthcare insurance premium. It sounds simple but it is of course not easy.

The budget is tight, and many cost saving measures have already been taken. Coming up with revenue-enhancing proposals is an idea with a bad track record. Over the past couple of years, we have seen all kinds of plans come along that would bring millions into the government’s coffers. But when push came to shove, those measures quietly evaporated. Most of the time there was no proper legislation in place to support the measure. Think for instance about the idea to increase the taxes on alcohol and tobacco products, or the doomed condo-tax for foreign real estate owners. The lofty idea to humor motorists by abolishing the annual circus of changing number plates initially made environmentalists happy. However, it turned out to be an expensive idea because the previous Minister of Finance, Roland Tuitt, thought naively that motorists loved St. Maarten so much that they would pay their road tax even though there was no control mechanism in place.

And so it goes year after year after year. Even when the Netherlands had 180 million guilders in debt relief ready, the country somehow managed to screw up procedures and only collect a fraction of this money. The headache over this blooper is still with us today.

That the budget will be approved is a no-brainer. That happens every year. Maybe it happened at 3 a.m. this morning or at another such agreeable time when normal people sleep – it does not really matter.

What does matter is how this budget will hold up in the real world. It is one thing to put on paper that employees will have to pay twice as much in healthcare insurance premiums, that the Mental Health Foundation will receive a lot less subsidy, or that civil servants will not receive a cost of living adjustment payment anymore. Let alone that they would receive the 50 percent unions think they are still entitled to from last year.

But reality is not only weirder than fiction, it is also much more stubborn. We do not live in a world politicians are able to shape according to whatever they desire. The measures in the budget affect real people. And those people may still have some surprises in stock for us. Whether that will happen, we will learn as soon as reality hits home.

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