Finance committee reports out a trimmed budget

The legislative budget committee approved funding for 2015 Thursday that is 3.8 percent lower than the executive branch wanted.

The approved budget is 7.6 trillion colons, about $14 billion. The amount trimmed from the executive branch budget was 297.8 billion colons or about $546 million.

Three of the 11 lawmakers on the committee voted against the cuts. They are Marco Vinicio Redondo of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and Gerardo Vargas Varela and José Ramírez of Frente Amplio, The have expressed concerns about cuts to social programs.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte, the Poder Judicial, the Ministerio de Educación Publica and the Ministerio de la Presidencia sustained the bulk of the cuts, according to a legislative summary.

The committee, the  Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Hacendarios, also ordered government agencies to use up their surpluses.

The budget now goes to the full legislature which is supposed to approve a budget by Nov. 30.

Some lawmakers were surprised when President Luis Guillermo Solís submitted a budget request  for 7.9 trillion colons, $14,5 billion. That’s because the country is deeply in debt and paying much of the budget with borrowed money.

Committee Chairman Ottón Solís led the effort to trim the budget, but he also generated strong responses from those affected, including the president. University students, for example, staged a march on the legislature. The Poder Judicial launched a strong public relations effort.

However, revelations dampened the campaigns. For example, some former officials were reported to be received pensions approaching $18,000 a month, and some agencies were found to be giving nearly every employee a merit pay bonus each year.

Still, during debate in the full Asamblea Legislativa, the cuts could be restored or more cuts could be made.

Expats who have been following the budget discussions in the Spanish-language newspapers could become confused by the category  of numbers. Million is the same in Spanish or English. But in Costa Rica, what English-speakers call billion is called here mil millon. The issue is confused further because Spanish speakers use the word billon for what English speakers call trillion.

So 7.6 trillion colons is called  7.6 billones in Spanish.

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