IRL robs soc dems of benefit boost glory

IRLi esimees Urmas Reinsalu käis eile järgmise valitsuse moodustamise üle arutlemas president Toomas Hendrik Ilvese juures Kadriorus.

PHOTO: Erik Prozes / Postimees

Bill presented by soc dems regarding raising benefits of first and second child, warmed up by IRL, may undergo final voting at Riigikogu as soon as next week.

While still in coalition of Andrus Ansip, IRL is scrambling to birth children benefit rise – for years demanded by the opposition. Possibly, this might rob soc dems of main argument for entering government with Reform Party. Yesterday, chairman of Riigikogu Social Affairs Committee Margus Tsahkna suddenly unearthed draft legislation No 11SE, initiated in 2011 by soc dems regarding family benefits, the original idea of which was to triple support for first and second child at the start of 2012.

The old soc dems bill was put back on the table by IRL, at the Social Affairs Committee; as of today, it’s officially on the committee agenda. In all likelihood, the tripling of 1st and 2nd child benefit may enter decisive voting in Toompea the next week.

As a result, come 2015 the benefits paid for first and second children may rise from current €19.18 to €57.54 per child.

By the intriguing move, IRL – probably to be left outside the next government – killed two birds at once. Firstly, the soc dems in negotiations with Reform Party are placed in a somewhat awkward situation, having two options: to publicly put brakes to their own bill; or to act impolite towards Reformers, the partner-in-talks, with whom the details of raising child benefit have not yet been agreed. 

Secondly, however, a significant rise of child benefit may, in a situation like this, well get the green light at Riigikogu. Meaning, then, that a certain share of image-points – for increased benefits – would be pocketed by IRL and Centre Party, who could say while campaigning in 2015 that they also participated in child benefit rise, this not coming merely thanks to current squirrel/soc dem coalition in the making.

«Probably, IRL started to clean up drawers and happened upon our bills. We are, naturally, thankful that these are paid attention to,» said Eiki Nestor, the soc dems faction vice head at Riigikogu.

The bill in question is among the very first to be filed during this Riigikogu. In the summer of 2011, the tripling bill did pass its first reading in the hall, then sent to Social Affairs Committee drawers by coalition majority. Typically, this is the parliamentary fate of drafts not supported by a coalition while voting it out of procedures might spawn negative public feedback.

As told Postimees yesterday by Social Committee chair Margus Tsahkna, there’s no need to wait for the new government to raise children benefits. «If all parties have announced approval, then the sooner the better,» claimed Mr Tsahkna.

Centre Party faction chairwoman Kadri Simson added that they’d also be willing to vote yes in the hall, recalling that their party had already attempted to achieve a rise of child benefits at the so-called night sessions last year.

Thus, IRL, Centre Party and soc dems could decide the issue even if Reform Party will not vote yes. 

Still, Eiki Nestor was not willing to hurry, yesterday, saying that for sure they would proceed with raising children benefits, but that to pass the bill sources for the money need to be found, acceptable for Riigikogu majority.

According to social ministry, tripling 1st and 2nd child benefits would cost about €108m a year. That’s very big money, considering that at the start of the year, already, finance ministry asked other ministries to propose cuts to save €56m in next year budget.

Even so, Mr Tsahkna had this to say about the money: «If there’s a political will, the source will be found.»

A similar trick was pulled yesterday, by IRL, with soc dem and Centre Party bills found idle in Finance Committee drawers, whereby support of sports by employees would be exempt of fringe benefit tax for employers.

According to Finance Committee chairman Sven Sester, the said bills would be re-discussed in the committee this Thursday already, to see what happens next. «I have always supported exempting sports from fringe benefit tax, but I know the finance minister is against it,» said he.

Yesterday, delegations of soc dems and IRL paid a visit to Kadriorg, talking government talk with president Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Today, it’s Centre Party time. Last night, at Hotel Olümpia, soc dems and Reform Party held their third round of negotiations.