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Thursday's papers: Budget blues, high school woes

Thursday’s papers attempt to decipher Finance Minister Alexander Stubb’s maiden draft budget, which he unveiled on Wednesday. Dailies focus particularly on where the axe will fall next year and government’s burgeoning debt. There’s also bad news for next year’s crop of high school freshmen, in the form of a revised curriculum that brings with it new and costly text books.

 Alexander Stubb esittelee vuoden 2016 budjettiehdotusta Helsingissä.
Finance Minister Alexander Stubb during his maiden budget presentation on Wednesday. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

Helsingin Sanomat, the country’s most widely read paper, offers a comprehensive look at the Finance Ministry's framework budget and where it's likely to hit hardest. It notes that in spite of income-based tax breaks, an increase in unemployment insurance contributions effectively means that some workers will still feel the pinch. In this case it’s likely to be high income earners pocketing above 50,000 euros annually.

The paper writes that the outcome is contrary to what the government outlined in its roadmap coming into office. According to that programme, income taxes would not increase for any income group. Conceding that big earners would feel some taxation heat next year, the Finance Ministry estimated that the axe would fall on persons earning in excess of 100,000 euros annually.

On the flip side of the coin, the taxpayers' association estimated that middle income earners who are paid around 3,000 euros monthly would see a slightly lower income tax rate – some 0.2 percentage points less.

A little here, a little there

In an effort to balance state coffers, the paper reports, government will implement spending cuts to the tune of 900 million euros next year. The belt-tightening will see spending on education fall by 210 million euros, development aid by 200 million euros, and health insurance compensation by 70 million euros.

Municipalities will also feel the pain of additional austerity in 2016, as central government forks out less money for specialist health care, elder care services and early childhood education. On the other hand government has planned to step up spending on family and patient home care, the defence forces and internal security by 85, 50 and 50 million euros respectively.

Borrowing our way out of recession?

Tabloid daily Ilta Sanomat meanwhile, probes the increase in central government debt to over 100 billion euros next year, according to Finance Ministry’s estimates, compared to around 75 billion in 2010 and 96 billion in 2014. All the same, the government plans to take on more debt. The paper asked Finance Minister Alexander Stubb why.

"The reason that we are borrowing more than last year, and this is unfortunately a normal development, is because the economic situation has deteriorated even further. In practice this means that our economic growth and output have stalled," Stubb explained.

"We had to make a calculated choice, in other words, 450 million euros of earned income deductions, which in practice means that workers get more money in their pockets, particularly low- and middle-income earners. In this way we can boost purchasing power," he added.

No pain, no gain

Coming off the presses in bustling Tampere, daily Aamulehti reports that education authorities will overhaul the curriculum for the country’s upper secondary schools from next year. The revamp will provide new content and teaching goals for educators with a view to ensuring consistency, quality, equality and legal protection for learners. The move will coincide with a reform of the primary education system, also due to come into force from August 2016.

However the paper reports that the education reforms could bite new high school students hard. In many cases students try to recycle used books from friends and family members or the second-hand market. However an entirely new syllabus could see learners and their parents forking out up to 1,800 euros for all-new text books, compared to between 1,000 and 1,300 for used texts.

The changes also mean that this year’s students who’ve invested in new or used text books will not be able to recover what they’ve spent by offloading their old books to incoming freshmen.

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