Bulgaria’s National Assembly passed the 2020 Budget Act at first reading on November 13, with 126 MPs in favour and 92 opposed. A day earlier, Parliament held a special sitting to approve the social security and healthcare funds’ budget for next year.
Unlike other years, the Budget bill has caused little controversy – owing mainly to the fact that it featured no controversial new tax proposals – and that has deprived opposition parties of new lines of attack against the government.
The socialists, the largest opposition in Parliament, trotted out their usual line about the bill being an “accounting exercise” that did not solve existing issues in the healthcare system and education (both areas will receive higher funding in 2020), nor did it address poverty or the “demographic crisis”.
For a third year running, socialist leader Kornelia Ninova vowed to table an “alternative budget” between the two readings that would tackle those issues. (Although the socialists tabled plenty of amendments between readings both in 2017 and 2018, the party did not present an actual coherent budget bill in either of those years.)
The predominantly ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms also used its usual criticism that the Budget bill did not encourage any reforms.
For his part, Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov emphasised the zero deficit target, saying that “the principle of spending what you earn is fundamental for this budget and our main goal is to follow that.”
Budget committee chairperson Menda Stoyanova from GERB, the senior partner in the government coalition, focused on the zero deficit as well, while pointing out the various areas where the bill envisions increased spending.
These hefty spending increases include salary hikes for state employees, as well as increased spending on education, she said.
The second reading of the Budget bill will be later this month, as Bulgarian law mandates that the Budget has to be passed by the end of November. Unlike at first reading, where the bill is voted in bulk, at second reading the vote will go article by article, including on any amendments filed between readings.