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Senate targets Oct. OK of 2018 budget

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Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on finance, and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon during a budget hearing on August 30, 2017. -- SENATE PRIB/Alex Nuevaespaña

THE SENATE is moving to approve the proposed P3.767-trillion 2018 national budget before Congress adjourns in mid-October for a month-long break, the head of the committee holding hearings on this measure said yesterday, adding that the House of Representatives will have to submit the spending plan to her chamber by Sept. 21 for this target to be met.

A senior House leader said his chamber will likely miss that target by five days.

“We want to finish the budget ahead of the usual schedule, but we can only commit to Senate approval on third reading of the 2018 GAB before the adjournment of session in October if the House of Representatives is able to transmit to us the GAB by Sept. 21,” Senator Loren B. Legarda, chairman of the Senate’s Finance committee, said in a press release yesterday, referring to the general appropriations bill (GAB).

Her committee has been conducting hearings on the proposed budgets of specific government offices in parallel with House action on this measure in a bid to ensure enactment of the national government’s spending plan for 2018 before yearend. Failure to do so will mean a reenacted 2017 budget that may force major adjustments in the plans of government offices.

By law, the national budget must first hurdle the House before securing Senate approval. Leaders of both chambers then convene a bicameral conference committee to harmonize differences between their versions, before the spending plan is submitted to President Rodrigo R. Duterte for signing into law.

Congress is scheduled to adjourn on Oct. 14 and reconvene on Nov. 13. It then takes a Dec. 16-Jan. 14 Christmas-New Year break.

“The early passage of the proposed P3.767-trillion national budget for 2018 will ensure continuity of ongoing programs and immediate implementation of new ones by government agencies. When the budget is approved early, it allows for a more efficient delivery of services by the government,” Ms. Legarda added.

Sought for comment, House Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas said yesterday that his chamber may miss Ms. Legarda’s target by five days. “We are looking at Sept. 26 since it will take six days to print the GAB… [after] … third reading [today, Sept. 20]. We are finalizing the amendments before printing,” he said via text.

The House approved the proposed 2018 national budget on second reading on Sept. 12.

The budget for next year is the first to be prepared by the Duterte administration, which targets to spur economic growth to 7-8% annually in 2018-2022, when it ends its six-year term, from 6.5-7.5% this year, an actual 6.9% in 2016 and a 6.2% average in 2010-2015. Central to this plan is a hike in annual state infrastructure spending to P1.899 trillion in 2022, equivalent to P7.45% of gross domestic product, from P1.17 trillion next year, or 6.68%, and this year’s programmed P847.22 billion, equivalent to 5.32%.

The bottom line: unemployment rate should fall to 3-5% by 2022 from 5.5% in 2016, and poverty incidence should drop to 13-15% also by that year from 21.6% in 2015. — M. M. Banzon

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