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José Luis Álvarez, Director of department of Economics, University of Navarra

Lack of discipline

Mon, 30 May 2011 14:07:34 +0000 Published in La Razón (Madrid)

The hangover following last weekend's elections brought, among its various symptoms, new headaches caused by the spike in the Spanish sovereign debt risk premium. There are several reasons for investors' fears. On the one hand, the enormous doubts about Greece's future. On the other hand, there are the questions raised in Spain by the political change resulting from the regional and municipal elections. Investors seem to fear that the current weakness of the country's government will hinder progress in the necessary structural reforms. They seem equally wary of the possibility that the new regional governors will find "dark secrets" in the drawers of their predecessors in the form of hidden deficits.

Of course, the precedents of fiscal and budgetary opacity of the autonomous administrations do not help to dispel these suspicions. The growing debt of their public companies, which thanks to accounting artifices does not count as public debt, is a clear case of this lack of transparency. It is also an excellent example of the absence of fiscal discipline , the great evil that afflicts the public expense of our autonomous communities. The configuration of the autonomous system has created perverse incentives in the regional governments, long afflicted by an irrepressible deficit bias. The rulers of the autonomous communities have always known that by increasing the expense it is easier to please their citizens. They have hoped to be able to do so without suffering the political wear and tear of being responsible for tax increases. Such a hope was justified because the central Administration, due to the way the autonomic financing system works and the low resistance to political pressure from strong parties in the region in question, would probably end up transferring more resources at some point to cover the budgetary imbalance. I do not know if the new rulers will find or bring to light those deficits that supposedly would have remained hidden. But there is no doubt that they will face budgetary temptations similar to those experienced by those who preceded them. That is why it would be desirable that, taking advantage of the political turnaround of May 22, they all embark on the search for and implementation of efficient mechanisms of discipline fiscal. Will they be capable?