Pressurised Vienna coalition guarantees service quality

Viennese Social Democratic (SPÖ) Financial Affairs Councillor Renate Brauner has stressed that “immense challenges” are ahead for the city.

Brauner told the Kurier today (Fri) that the Viennese SPÖ-Greens coalition would try to avoid a decrease of service quality to citizens despite the need to save one billion Euros in the coming five years. Brauner was informed by the federal government coalition of SPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP) that the capital city must burden the lion’s share of the nine provinces’ contribution to the budget consolidation package.

The SPÖ Vienna councillor said the number of Viennese public servants would decline in the next few years thanks to an increasing focus of online administration services. She said this development would allow the city coalition to assign urgently needed kindergarten carers. Brauner added she was convinced of positive effects of the city’s health sector reform. Several smaller clinics will merge within the coming years to lower costs. A new major hospital is planned for the northern district of Floridsdorf.

Brauner told the Kurier that there would not be “one singular measure” concerning upcoming cutbacks. She explained that the plan was to evaluate the city’s subsidisation policies to find out where more efficiency was possible. The financial issues councillor stressed that the city would keep investing into the expansion of its underground network. Brauner added that the city government would – in contrast to Styria’s SPÖ-ÖVP coalition – not reintroduce kindergarten charges.

The SPÖ Vienna board member said she was convinced that residents would show understanding for the planned measures “because we are telling people the truth”. Brauner underlined that the city government would not make a U-turn on following the federal government’s recommendations regarding civil servants’ salaries. The SPÖ-ÖVP coalition decided earlier this month that public sector staff’s incomes would not be increased next year regardless of inflation. The government also plans to jack up their wages “moderately” in the following year.

Brauner said the Viennese government coalition of SPÖ and Greens would not increase civil servants’ incomes if public sector staff elsewhere must accept unchanged salaries. This announcement comes as a surprise since SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl said only a few days ago that he was not in favour of freezing people’s incomes. The influential left-winger warned from negative economic effects such a decision could have.

The federal government presented its 26.5-billion-Euro savings package last week. SPÖ and ÖVP discussed its details for nearly two months before informing the public of their plans. ÖVP Finance Minister Maria Fekter was criticised after it emerged that she decided to consider substantial earnings from a tax on financial transactions. The measure may come into effect across the Eurozone after the European Commission (EC) eventually endorsed the idea. However, it may take another few years’ time before countries which use the Euro rake in some extra money thanks to the levy.

Another uncertain aspect of the upcoming budget consolidation is a possible anti-tax evasion agreement with Switzerland where Austrians are suspected of stashing between 12 billion and 20 billion Euros to benefit from lower taxation. A spokesman for the Swiss government told an Austrian radio news programme earlier this week that it may take some time until the Austrian-Swiss settlement comes into force. He emphasised that the Swiss could be asked for their opinion in a referendum. The country, which is not part of the EU, already cooperates with Germany about tax fugitives.