Rudas confirms tax hike intention

Social Democratic (SPÖ) General Secretary Laura Rudas has defended her party’s intention to increase taxes.

The SPÖ wants to raise some taxation rates to restore the budget while its coalition partner, the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), expressed the intention to concentrate on lowering investments. Rudas said today (Weds) “all experts” were of the opinion that a well-considered mixture of tax hikes and spending cuts was needed to drag Austria out of the financial danger zone.

Rudas also pointed out that the Social Democrats did not present only a list of possible tax increases but also identified areas where cuts could be made. The general secretary – a rival of SPÖ General Secretary Günther Kräuter but a close political ally of SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann and SPÖ Vienna Mayor Michael Häupl – explained several public administration measures could be financially supported less strongly in the coming years.

Rudas’ explanations came one day after ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf accused the SPÖ of being “driven by ideology”. Newspaper commentators claimed the coalition already agreed to raise some taxes when the outspoken opponent of tax hikes said taxation burdens would only be worsened if the SPÖ forced his party to do so. Kopf refused to comment on whether high incomes could be taxed more drastically from next year but made clear that the ÖVP would veto any attempt to set up an inheritance tax.

Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache – who recently met with Kopf to debate a possible agreement considering the government’s debt brake draft bill – announced yesterday that discussions had been “good and serious” so far. Strache said the government must lower the bureaucratic burdens for people who planned referendums. The right-winger mentioned the political system in Switzerland as an example. While the ÖVP signalled support for his ideas, Kräuter branded the FPÖ head’s statements as a New Year’s joke. The SPÖ general secretary claimed Strache’s attempt to compare laws and regulations in Switzerland with the Austrian constitution made no sense.

The FPÖ boss also appealed to the SPÖ and ÖVP to organise a round table debate with representatives of his party, Federal Audit Office (RH) boss Josef Moser and economist Bernhard Felderer. Strache said the sky-high state debts were a consequence of decisions made by the current government in the past years. He said the SPÖ-ÖVP administration must take the RH’s recent collection of suggestions into account. The authority presented a list of 599 ideas how Austria could economise without brutally reducing investments or sacking public servants. Moser claimed all of the measures could be carried out without harming the Austrian economy’s fragile growth.

All government ministers are bracing for being ordered by ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter to spend less on their individual projects than initially planned in the coming years. SPÖ Defence Minister Norbert Darabos explained he intended to lower administration expenses but also made clear that he would not lower the army’s budget for international peacekeeping missions.

Almost 1,600 Austrian soldiers are currently participating in operations around the world organised by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN). Austria spends 2.1 billion Euros on its military force, a sum which is just as high as 0.7 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Darabos emphasised that he would keep putting the focus on selling unused barracks and other properties owned by the army as well as around 50 per cent of the tanks it currently possessed. The defence ministry spent 80 million Euros on soldiers’ engagement abroad. “We will not slash this sum,” Darabos promised.