BUYING TIME

Ruling bloc submits gas-tax stopgap bill

by Setsuko Kamiya and Masami Ito

The ruling coalition on Tuesday night submitted a stopgap bill to the Diet that would maintain current provisional gasoline and other auto-related tax rates until May 31, touching off sharp protests from opposition parties who want an end to the 30-year-old temporary taxes.

In a display of political maneuvering, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc withheld the bill until the Lower House approved the supplementary budget for fiscal 2007 in the evening to prevent angry opposition forces from stopping Diet deliberations.

LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki said the ruling bloc hopes to get the stopgap bill through the Lower House on Wednesday.

However, the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, was expected to dig in its heels by refusing to attend scheduled Diet deliberations.

Desperate to pass the budget for fiscal 2008 and its related tax reform bill by March 31, the ruling bloc spent all day calling on the opposition camp to let the bills pass the Diet.

In earlier horse-trading, the ruling parties agreed to reconsider submitting the unusual two-month extension stopgap bill if the budget were passed.

“(The stopgap bill) is a safety net to avoid social confusion (that may occur when the tax rates are abolished,)” Ibuki asserted. “It’s a measure that will show the public that they do not have to worry about such a mess from happening even if (the opposition camp) wants to deliberate (on the original tax reform bill) after April 1.”

But the opposition camp adamantly refused to compromise.

“(The ruling camp) is trying to reach a conclusion before beginning deliberations,” charged DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama. “That is unacceptable because it would render Diet deliberations meaningless.”

With the DPJ-led opposition forces holding a majority in the Upper House, the tax reform bill for fiscal 2008 submitted last week is far from assured of passage.

But passing the stopgap bill would give the ruling bloc until the end of May to marshal its forces to fend off opposition to the tax reform bill.

If the bill is rejected in the Upper House, the Lower House can override it by using its two-thirds majority.

The tax reform bill for fiscal 2008 includes a clause to maintain the provisional rates imposed on gasoline and autos for another decade.

The tax revenue is earmarked for road-related projects and the ruling bloc claims that many outlying municipalities are still in need of infrastructure and other improvements.