In a report to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in mid-December, an advisory panel on local autonomy recommended that local governments be allowed to hold assembly sessions throughout the year so that a wide range of local residents can serve as local assembly members. But the panel opted to postpone the reintroduction of a system in which local residents can make a direct request to their local government for raising or lowering local taxes by collecting a certain number of signatures.

This month the panel’s discussions are scheduled to move to a new topic — local autonomy in large urban areas. But the panel should continue to discuss the direct claim system on local tax rate changes and other earlier topics because these concern important means of expanding local residents’ participation in local government.

The Local Autonomy Law originally included the direct claim system on local tax rate changes. But because a series of direct requests to lower local tax rates were made under the system in years immediately after the war when the economy was in extremely bad shape, a provision dropping the system was inserted into the law.

The internal affairs ministry asked the panel to discuss a proposal to delete the provision from the Local Autonomy Law and was ready to submit a necessary revision bill to the Diet. But the panel virtually shelved the proposal. Its report said that before reviving the system, the types of local taxes to be covered by it and the number of signatures needed should be carefully discussed and changes in economic conditions should be closely watched.

The panel was influenced by opinions of the “six associations” composed of heads of prefectural and municipal governments and assemblies. They insisted that if the direct claim system on changing local tax rates is revived, local residents will make a large number of requests calling for tax reductions, thus worsening their governments’ financial conditions.

They should realize that such a system can supplement the current local autonomy system, especially when local governments are not functioning properly. If local residents’ requests are unreasonable, local assemblies can turn them down.

The panel should also discuss how to improve a system of referendums on various issues that directly affect local residents’ lives.

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