Laws for disposing of 27.8 trillion yen in debts left behind by the now-defunct Japanese National Railways were enacted Thursday when the Upper House approved the measures by a margin of 129-113.Under the laws, the huge debts will be disposed of over 60 years, mostly by using taxpayer money and by requiring Japan Railway group firms to shoulder part of the burden. The measures also include a special tobacco tax of 1 yen per cigarette purchased.The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and elements in the opposition camp — the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party — supported a bill that stipulates a repayment scheme for the debts and five other related bills.The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, as well as Komei and the Japanese Communist Party voted against the bills. The laws will be enforced as early as next week.Under the repayment scheme, the government will transfer 15.2 trillion yen in interest-bearing debts and 8.3 trillion yen in noninterest debts, currently held by the semipublic JNR Settlements Corp., to the state’s general account, combining the debts with other debts owed by the government.To repay the interest, the government will utilize financial resources that include a 1 trillion yen fund from the postal savings special account and revenues from the new special tobacco tax.Under the repayment scheme, the funds from the special tobacco tax and money raised through other unspecified spending cuts and fundraising efforts by the government will be used to defray the principal over a 60-year period.Some opposition members criticized the repayment scheme, saying it does not clearly define how the principal will be repaid and merely transfers the financial burden to taxpayers.Japan Railway Construction Public Corp. will take over the remaining 4.3 trillion yen in pension-related costs and will repay the debts through government subsidies and the sales of real estate and stocks held by the JR group companies.The Transport Ministry estimates the value of the remaining land plots and stocks of the JR firms held by JNR Settlements at somewhere between 4.5 trillion yen and 5.5 trillion yen.Under the bill, seven JR group companies are required to bear 180 billion yen out of the 4.3 trillion yen in pension-related costs. The burden on the JR group firms was halved from the initially planned 360 billion yen as a result of a compromise reached between the LDP and the opposition camp.The JR group companies have strongly opposed bearing any financial burden, saying they already shouldered their fair share of the debts — 14.5 trillion yen — when the JNR was privatized in 1987.Meanwhile, the special tobacco tax of 1 yen per cigarette will be launched in December, leading to a price hike of 20 yen per pack.
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