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Budget to Boost Learning

Spending on education, health care and the environment would all increase next year if a budget proposed this week by President Oscar Arias is approved.



Nearly a quarter of the ¢4.1 trillion ($7.45 billion) budget would go to education.

“Historically, this is the highest budget that education has had in Costa Rica,” said Education Minister Leonardo Garnier.



The assembly will now examine and most likely amend the budget, which must be voted on before December.



Government spending next year would increase by 17.9 percent over this year’s budget, according to the plan laid out by Finance Minister Guillermo Zúñiga.



However, considering Banco Central’s estimated inflation rate for 2008 is 14.2 percent, real spending increases by just 3.7 percent.



Arias announced last week that the budget would emphasize social spending, dedicating 45 percent of the nation’s resources to key areas such as health care, housing, education, pensions and programs for poor families and mothers.



Health spending, for example, would increase by 37.6 percent (23.4 percent, accounting for inflation) in the proposed budget. Avancemos (Let’s Go Forward), a program that gives monthly cash transfers to poor families in exchange for keeping their kids in school, would get $110 million, a 37.8 percent increase over the current budget.



The Education Ministry would receive ¢1.1 billion ($2 million), an increase of 37.5 percent, Zúñiga said. Calculating for inflation, that figure lowers to 23.3 percent. According to the Finance Ministry, education spending represents about 6.3 percent of Costa Rica’s gross domestic product.



Costa Rica’s Constitution was changed in 1997 to require government spending on education to equal at least 6 percent of GDP. Arias’ 2007 budget was the first to comply.



“I am really satisfied,” Garnier told The Tico Times. “This will allow us to continue strengthening our efforts to increase educational coverage – especially high school coverage, which continues to be low in Costa Rica – and reinforce infrastructure and equipment programs.”



Garnier said priority spending includes expanding computer labs and the use of newer technology in schools and in the administration. Funds would also go toward training teachers, administrators and Education Ministry officials.



Environmental spending also would increase under the Arias administration’s budget. The Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) would receive $52 million, a 36.6 percent raise over this year’s budget. Of that, about $20 million would go to the national parks system and $1 million would go to Arias’ broad environmental program Peace with Nature.



The budget also would boost funds for the Public Security Ministry by 14.3 percent in real terms. The budget calls for the creation of 800 new police positions and their needed equipment. The budget also would create 200 new administrative positions in the ministry to help shift the officers that fill those jobs back onto the streets, with a goal of getting 1,000 new cops on beat.



Francisco Molina, head of the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC) in the Legislative Assembly, said it was too early to pass judgment on the budget.



“It seems good. I can’t criticize it,” he said. “We must support any efforts to lift up the people with the most needs in this country.”



The budget is financed in nearly three quarters by tax income, while only 28.2 percent comes from loans, the Finance Ministry said.



Minister Zúñiga pointed out that in 2006, nearly half the budget – 47 percent – was financed.



“Today I can tell you, this has changed dramatically,” Zúñiga said.



In 2006, under the last budget presented by former President Abel Pacheco of the opposing Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), 51 percent of spending went to pay down the nation’s debt.



For 2009, Zúñiga said, only 33 percent of spending would be for debt.







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