Salceda: Congress determined to pass 2019 budget; salary hikes, 2019 polls, SEA Games, inflation safety nets, free college expansion

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Congress is determined to pass the 2019 national budget, since a “reenacted budget is bad policy as it fails to reflect changes in needs of our people and does not respond to our economic imperatives”.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda made this assertion, stressing that “foremost in our mind is that a reenacted budget will endanger the increase in salaries of military and civilian workers, the 2019 elections, hosting of the Southeast Asian Games, the expansion of college scholarships to private schools, and deprive us of safety nets against inflation.”

Fears were aired earlier by some sectors that the Duterte administration will end up with a reenacted budget due to snags and delays in the deliberation in the Lower House on the proposed cash-based P 3.757 trillion 2019 budget.

Salceda, a respected economist and the House focal person on economic and fiscal policy concerns under the Arroyo speakership, explained that “our people, not Congress, will be the biggest losers in a reenacted budget” under which government agencies will simply operate on the basis of the previous year’s budget.

A reenacted budget sends a wrong signal to investors about the ability of the Philippines to maintain the reform momentum, said Salceda who also singled out the “military and uniformed personnel, among other sectors, who will lose much in terms of benefits, amounting to P158 billion in 2019.”

He explained that a re-enacted 2018 budget “cannot authorize the P84 billion in salary increases of Military and Uniformed Personnel (MUP) as provided by House-originated Joint Resolution No.1.”

  “Moreover, the 2018 budget does not provide an item for the Pension Indexation of MUP which would amount to P40 billion and another P33.8 billion for arrears in the indexation (although lodged in the Unprogrammed Funds which may be unlocked by new revenues),” he added.

Our 1.2 million civil servants, Salceda said, also stand to lose as the 2019 NEP provides for the 4th Tranche of the Salary Standardization Law. This amounts to P58.1 billion. A reenacted budget will also “jeopardize the conduct of the 2019 National and Local Elections (the heart of democratic process), which would require P6 billion, as proposed by the 2019 NEP, he added. The 2018 budget specifically allocated only P11.8 billion for “Preparatory Activities.”

Salceda said a reenacted budget will also endanger the hosting of the 2019 SEA Games as the 2019 NEP seeks P6 billion budget for it, since there is no item in the 2018 GAA for such expenditures. With it, tourism is also bound to lose.

The proposed 2019 NEP ;likewise provides an additional P11 billion for the implementation of free tertiary education (UAQTE or RA 10931) funding. This can be augmented but it is far better for Congress to seal such funding commitment, he added.

The proposed 2019 budget also provides P36 billion for the unconditional cash transfers to cushion the inflation impact of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN, on the lowest 50% or 12 million families, which includes the  additional monthly P100 (total P300/month) for them.

He noted that while the Executive may draw from its 2018 authorization of P3.767 trillion to fit its P3.757 trillion 2019 NEP, it can only augment existing items but it would need Congressional authorization for new items.

Salceda also pointed out that the 2019 P776 billion in capital outlay represents a decent growth with the Department of Public Works and Highways at +P114 billion (vs lowered 2018 program) and the Department of Transportation by P35.9 billion (vs. lowered 2018 adjusted program) may be needed to boost productive capacity and achieve the country’s growth target.

The lawmaker said Congress is determined to pass the 2019 budget, but  infrastructure projects  must be given more than the one year life of cash-based budgeting; and the rest will be cash-based or “subject to the one-year life. “We also need to create fiscal space for more school buildings and health facilities” around the country, he added.

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