Government rolls out ‘tight’ budget

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Norway’s left-center coalition government was rolling out what it called a “tight” state budget for the next year on Monday, but it nonetheless contains several increases in spending on culture, transport and social welfare programs from day care to elder care. The budget for 2013 represents the government’s last chance to fulfill campaign promises from 2009, and boost it own chances of re-election next year.

The budget leaks have been trickling out in Norwegian media for days, and Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen of the Labour Party said on national radio Monday morning that he thinks there’s been too many of them this year. In that case, he probably should be scolding his own ministries because that’s where the leaks come from, and his fellow ministers have even confirmed some of them before the budget itself was to be formally presented in Parliament (Stortinget) at 10am.

More foreign aid
Development Minister Heikki Holmås of the Socialist Left party (SV), for example, confirmed to newspaper Dagsavisen on Monday that Norway’s budget for foreign aid will rise by NOK 2.3 billion (nearly USD 400 million) next year. He claimed the current left-center government has therefore doubled the amount Norway spends on foreign aid during its two terms in office so far, from NOK 15 billion to NOK 30.2 billion, and therefore has met its goal of earmarking 1 percent of all revenues to the state to help fight poverty in other countries.

Newspaper Aftenposten, meanwhile, reported that Norway’s Ministry of Culture will get nearly another NOK 1 billion to fund cultural programs and both Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Transport Minister Marit Arnstad got prime time on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s nightly newscast Dagsrevy on Sunday to repeat claims that their government will spend more on improvements to Norway’s ailing train and highway system than ever before. Opposition politicians were quick to pounce on that claim, however, arguing that the improvement programs will take far too long and that quicker, more efficient methods need to be used when building new road and rail systems.

Could have boosted the budget even more
One NRK commentator speculated that additional funding for schools, day care and elder care programs would be in line with what experts in those areas have requested. Johnsen told NRK Monday morning that “there will certainly be many who would have wanted more,” but he stressed that Norway remained in a “privileged and good situation” because of its strong economy. While other finance ministers in Europe are having to make painful cuts in their state budgets, Johnsen has been spared such a tough job because Norway remains wealthy and able to continue expanding.

The government nonetheless intends to use less money than it could next year. Johnsen has already said he won’t be tapping the full 4 percent of Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund from its oil revenues that it could this year. NRK reported that only around 3.3 percent will be used, because the oil fund has grown so large and spending 4 percent of it could overheat Norway’s economy.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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