Status: 29.11.2023, 14:50 PM
The North Rhine-Westphalian state parliament debates in plenary. © Federico Gambarini/dpa
The budget of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia will break the 2024 billion euro mark for the first time in 100. Nevertheless, savings must be made. The debt brake should not falter.
Düsseldorf - The budget crisis of the federal government is also casting its shadow on North Rhine-Westphalia. State Finance Minister Marcus Optendrenk (CDU) promised a constitutionally compliant budget policy for Germany's most populous state in the state parliament on Wednesday. The debt brake is to be complied with again in 2024, after the ban on net new debt had been suspended several times in NRW due to the Corona pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
As of December 31 of this year, the loan-financed special fund of five billion euros to cope with the consequences of the Ukraine war will come to an end, said Optendrenk. Optendrenk must clearly state that the state government will neither soften nor suspend the debt brake in 2024, said FDP finance politician Ralf Witzel. "Now comes the litmus test of your credibility."
Debt brake - yes or no?
At least the Greens, as coalition partners of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia, no longer see the debt brake as a sacred cow. Green MP Simon Rock, like his party colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Mona Neubaur, called for "an update at the federal level". This means that the Greens want a reform of the debt brake, which has so far stipulated that federal and state budgets must be balanced without income from loans. "Meaningful investments in our future and that of our children must be made possible," Rock said. The debt brake must not be allowed to "become a brake on the future or a brake on prosperity". As long as it applies, however, the Greens would "of course comply with it one-to-one".
In particular, the FDP and CDU, the former government partners in North Rhine-Westphalia, clashed in the plenary. It was always about the budget policy of the traffic light in Berlin, where the FDP is part of the government. After the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on the federal budget, Optendrenk demanded of the FDP to say with "self-knowledge and humility": "That was crap in the federal government." According to Optendrenk, the government statement by Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) on Tuesday was "a sad appearance by a chancellor who does not know what will happen next". This is "the result of a federal government that is divided and unwilling to take on the challenges in Germany."
Former coalition partners in a clinch
Witzel, in turn, said that North Rhine-Westphalia Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst (CDU) has not yet proven to be a problem solver when he likes to call for federal aid. "But Mom is no longer in the Chancellery," he said, alluding to former CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel.
CDU MP Olaf Lehne accused the state parliament opposition of wanting to "project the mistakes of the traffic light onto the state government". At the same time, the traffic light in Berlin had "received an unprecedented slap" from the Federal Constitutional Court. The Karlsruhe court had declared a reallocation of 60 billion euros in the 2021 federal budget unconstitutional and null and void. The federal government is therefore not allowed to use funds intended to combat the corona crisis for climate protection.
It is true that the Karlsruhe ruling has no direct impact on the budget in North Rhine-Westphalia, said State Minister Optendrenk. However, there could be "indirect consequences" because the question now is where the federal government is cutting its co-financing. At the same time, Optendrenk committed himself to the debt brake in rather general terms. For many decades, politicians in Germany have only ever thought of incurring new debts. It is now necessary to create framework conditions "that are sustainable in every dimension," he said. "And when we look into children's eyes, this also includes telling them that you still have room for manoeuvre."
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The opposition SPD accused the state government of hiding behind the debt brake. Within the limits of the debt brake, the country could use "an economic debt option of at least 800 million euros," said SPD finance politician Alexander Baer. This was also recommended by the German Economic Institute (IW) in a statement on the draft budget.
Little room for manoeuvre for the country
The government of the CDU and the Greens is planning a record budget next year, which will exceed 100 billion euros for the first time. The country's total expenditure of 102 billion euros is planned. Of this, more than 38 billion euros have been earmarked for education alone.
According to the Liberals, the budget is structurally underfunded and in fact has a structural deficit worth billions that the state government is trying to cover up. With more than 300 million euros, the black-green coalition is helping itself to the pension fund, taking out the state-owned construction and real estate company NRW (BLB) with 150 million euros "like a Christmas goose" and planning with NRW. bank "a bank robbery" to loot 250 million euros.
Despite the planned record spending, the state will have to make savings in many areas in the coming year, as the CDU and the Greens made clear. The reasons for this are the sluggish economy, rising interest rates and lower than planned tax revenues. On the other hand, there is an additional need for funding, for example in daycare centres, due to increased personnel costs and the accommodation of refugees. In addition, the country's interest expenditure will increase by 2024 billion euros to 1.3 billion euros in 8.
The AfD spoke of a "humiliation of taxpayers" in view of the record spending. Because the lion's share of the budget is tax revenues, said AfD MP Hartmut Beucker. The final third reading of the budget law is scheduled for mid-December. Dpa