New Year brings reform, new rules

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Lots of new rules and regulations started taking effect in Norway as of January 1, when the New Year also loomed with some major upcoming reforms of everything from the railway system to municipalities and the state church. It all means that Norwegians will have to get used to many more changes in everyday life.

Norway's rail system has finally attracted substantial state investment and now faces major reorganization. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartement/Olav Heggø/Fotovisjon

Traveling on Norway’s rails and roads will see lots of changes in 2017. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartement/Olav Heggø/Fotovisjon

Newspaper Aftenposten has picked out 22 of the rule changes most likely to affect the most people. Some of them are as basic as higher fines for speeding tickets and other driving infractions: Anyone caught driving faster than 36-40 kilometers per hour over the speed limits of 90kph or higher, for example, will now get hit with a fine of NOK 10,400. That’s up from NOK 9,000 last year. It will be also more expensive to run a red light or get caught chatting on a mobile phone while driving without using a hands-free device.

No free elbil parking
Drivers of electric cars, meanwhile, can no longer count on free parking nationwide. A state exemption from parking fees has been withdrawn and now it’s up to local municipalities to decide whether they still want to let electric car owners park for free. Oslo and Drammen, for example, are retaining the parking fee exemption, but owners of so-called elbiler in cities including Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim will now have to pay for parking just like those driving vehicles using fossil fuel. All car owners will need to read parking signs wherever they are.

Government Minister Jan Tore Sanner was handed a new report on merging municipalities by Professor Signy Irene Vabo this week. PHOTO: Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet

Government Minister Jan Tore Sanner is expected to move forward with plans to force some municipal mergers, following up on a study headed by Professor Signy Irene Vabo. PHOTO: Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet

Speaking of municipalities – many may be subjected to forced mergers in the year ahead, after the deadline for voluntary mergers ran out December 31. It’s now up to the state government to decide how it will enforce its grand plans for municipal reform, aimed at making local governments more efficient with larger economies of scale. Forced mergers won’t be politically popular though, and risky in the run-up to national elections in September.

Tax relief
Most Norwegians and Norwegian businesses will get a bit of tax relief this year, with the overall tax on company profits and individual net income dropping from 25- to 24 percent. Taxpayers will still be able to write off interest payments on debt, while the standard deduction will be raised and the deductible amount on individual net worth will rise from NOK 1.4 million to NOK 1.48 million. Taxpayers in Norway will also be able to write off up to NOK 30,000 in donations to various charitable organizations, up from NOK 25,000.

Residents paying taxes to Norway will also be able to earn NOK 55,000 (USD 6,395) before having to pay any income tax, up from NOK 50,000.

Fuel taxes rose slightly from January 1, by 15 øre (15 percent of a krone) a liter on lead-free petrol and 35 øre per liter on diesel. The annual vehicle registration tax, though, has fallen, from NOK 3,185 last year to NOK 2,820 this year.

More cash support for parents
Parents who care for children at home instead of sending them to subsidized day care centers, meanwhile, will receive NOK 7,500 per month in cash support (kontantstøtte) up from NOK 6,000. The maximum price parents must pay to send their children to day care will rise, from NOK 2,655 to NOK 2,730.

Banks will no longer be able to lend more than five times a borrower’s gross income. Banks will also be restricted to lending a maximum of 60 percent of the price of a second home, part of a move to prevent speculators and investors from further driving up already-sky-high housing prices.

Only around 16 percent of Oslo residents intended to go to church during Easter. Here, the historic Lunner Church, about an hour's drive north of Oslo. PHOTO: Views and News

Norway’s state churches, like Lunner Church north of Oslo, all officially became part of a separate, independent entity called the Norwegian Church as of January 1. PHOTO: Views and News

In other more major changes ahead, the long-anticipated break between church and state formally took effect on January 1, eight years after it was formally approved by Parliament and five years after its new archbishop took over as head of the new Norwegian Church from King Harald. The new Norwegian Church will remain mostly state-funded, however, and critics think ties between church and state will still be too close. Now, however, the old state church that existed for 500 years will no longer be an agency of the state, but its own independent operation.

The government’s new railway reform will also be among changes rolling into 2017. Jernbaneverket, which has been in charge of railroad infrastructure in Norway, was officially phased out as of January 1 and replaced by Jernbanedirektoratet as a regulatory agency. New state-owned companies will be responsible for sales and ticketing (Salg og Billettering) and for railroad infrastructure (Bane Nor SF). It’s all part of the conservative government coalition’s drive for at least partial privatization, with operation of various lines being put out to bid in competition with what has been state railway NSB.

“The biggest changes for the passengers probably won’t be seen until 2018,” Svein Horrisland, new communications director for Jernbanedirektoratet, told newspaper Dagsavisen. That’s when lines like Jærebanen, Sørlandsbanen and Arendalsbanen will be operated by companies with winning bids. Horrisland insisted, however, that safety and streamlined ticket sales that are part of a national system will continue to have high priority.

Finally, immigrants applying for citizenship in Norway after January 1 will need to pass basic tests in language proficiency and civics. Language proficiency will also be required for those applying for permanent residency.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund