BUDGET CUTS

Aguirre wields the knife in Madrid to meet deficit target

Daycare, lost dogs and public services all in line of fire

Esperanza Aguirre during Thursday's press conference. / Carlos Rosillo (EL PAÍS)

Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre on Thursday announced swingeing spending cuts in order to meet the central government's deficit-reduction target of 1.5 percent for Spain's regions this year, "and if possible reduce it."

The wide-ranging cutbacks, which aim to save 1.045 billion euros this year, will leave virtually no section of society untouched. Hardest hit will be the region's 180,000 civil servants, public workers and employees of private companies that fall under the auspices of Aguirre's office, who face a 3.3-percent wage slash. This reduction comes two years after the Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero applied a five-percent cut nationwide.

Part of the target of over a billion euros in savings had already been budgeted in line with the central government's 10-percent reduction in spending on health and education, which in the case of Madrid represents a total saving of 653 million euros.

The remainder will come from increases to 65 different types of services, including a "rise of about 30 percent of average income per capita" in the fees senior citizens pay to use the region's daycare centers. "We will raise the cost of compulsory vehicle inspections and apply new fees, such as when somebody loses their dog and retrieves it from the municipal pound, which until now has been free. We are going to apply a cost for the time the dog spends there," said Aguirre.

The regional premier also said that 60 million would be recouped through the closure of public real estate agencies; 50 million will be reaped via the proposed part-privatization of Canal Isabel II, the public company responsible for water management in the region; and a further 15 million from the creation of new service costs. The car-servicing surcharge of one euro per vehicle inspected, sources from the regional Economy department stated, will be covered by the company that performs the service, not the consumer.

Toll roads

But dire news for automobile owners was not far behind with the announcement that Madrid's highways will revert to toll roads. "We haven't decided yet what to charge vehicles," Aguirre said. The health sector did not escape further cutbacks, with Aguirre promising to remove all services from the regional menu that are not covered under national guidelines, meaning, for example, that patients will have to pay for sex-change operations and vaccinations against pneumococcus.

High-office holders, including Aguirre, will see their salaries cut by 10 percent and regional deputies will lose the so-called "second salary," of 1,000 euros per month.

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