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2019.08.28 09:31

Lithuania's public services demand more funding in next year's budget

As public service workers complain of chronic under-funding, and some are going on strikes, government-financed institutions demand €1.4 billion more in next year's budget. The finance minister says the economy is slowing down and they should “take off rosy-coloured glasses”, while the opposition blames the government's tax-cutting policies for the shortfalls.

Government-funded services and institutions have already submitted their requests for next year's funding to the Ministry of Finance.

The Fire and Rescue Department is among many that demand more money. Last year, firefighters protested low pay, but also drew attention to the fact that they didn't have spare uniforms.

The firefigthers' union demand that the lowest-paid among them receive €1,000 a month by the end of next year. At the moment, the average pay among firefighters is only €650.

“To achieve that, and meet the government's commitments, we will need additional €14 million for the salaries,” according to the Fire Rescue Union's president Saulius Džiautas.

Teachers, too, went on strike recently over inadequate pay, toppling Education Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė. To meet their demands, education, too, will need a bigger slice of the pie.

“We would be happy if teachers were paid 130 percent of the average wage,” the leader of the Education Worker's Union, Andrius Navickas, says. “The [education] minister said he would seek that to happen, but so far it looks like it was just words.”

The National Opera House has threatened to cut its repertoire due to growing debts, while a public library in Vilnius recently put up posters in its bathrooms saying it didn't have enough money for toilet paper.

In total, various publicly-funded institutions have asked €1.4 billion more in next year's budget, according to the Ministry of Finance. That, the minister says, is quite unrealistic.

“Economic growth is losing steam, the economy will grow much slower next year, so it would be wise to prepare, to take off rosy-coloured glasses and live within our means,” Finance Minister Vilius Šapoka has commented to LRT TV. “We cannot raise our spending at the same rate as in previous years, because the government's revenue will not grow that fast.”

Asked for comment, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis simply said: “Needs are always bigger [than means], so we'll have work with [negotiating] the budget.”

Inevitably, some areas will have their funding cut so that the government can meet its commitment to others, but the finance minister refuses to say which ones.

“It would be early for me to comment, but we can't make everything a priority,” according to Šapoka. “I believe that we should focus on reducing poverty, continuing reforms and, surely, ensuring fiscal discipline.”

Opposition MP and former prime minister Andrius Kubilius says that scrimping and saving is a wrong approach and that the government should instead review its tax policies that are emptying state coffers.

“Cutting tax revenue so radically leaves no funds in the budget to ensure even the vital functions in various institutions,” Kubilius, of the conservative Homeland Union, tells LRT TV. “If the Opera House and a library say they don't have money to buy toilet paper, it shows you the actual situation.”

MP Valius Ąžuolas, who chairs the parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance, says the ruling coalition does not plan any major tax reforms next year.

But he adds that he has submitted a bill on slowing down the planned raises to tax-exempt income. The measure, Ąžuolas says, would help save €100 million next year.

However, Ramūnas Karbauskis, the ruling party's leader, has already promised tax cuts for disabled workers. That, Ąžuolas admits, could eat up all the gains of his proposal.