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Friday, July 23, 2010
Keeping devolution in focus
The divided Diet caused by the ruling coalition's failure to maintain a majority in the Upper House is worrying the nation's 47 governors that bills to boost the power of local governments will not be enacted. Amid a sense of crisis, the National Governors' Association held a convention July 15-16 in Wakayama and issued a statement calling on the ruling and opposition parties to establish a consultative body between them to ensure the passage of those bills.
In view of the financial difficulties affecting the central and local governments, the governors also called for raising the consumption tax from the current 5 percent. Revenues from the 1 percent-portion of the 5 percent go to local governments. They called for the formation of another consultative body between the ruling and opposition parties to discuss tax reform and expressed their readiness to participate in the debate.
Three bills aimed at forming a legally backed forum for policy consultations between the central and local governments and strengthening a devolution strategy conference within the Cabinet Office have been carried over to the next Diet session. Establishment of such a forum must be acceptable to the ruling and opposition parties. Both should cooperate in the Diet to flesh out this idea. On its part, the Democratic Party of Japan must listen to the opposition parties' opinions.
The DPJ government plans to free up, one by one, subsidies to local governments with strings attached from fiscal 2011. But the DPJ may not be able to enact a bill to free up such subsidies — and other bills — because the opposition controls the Upper House and it lacks a two-thirds majority in the Lower House to reverse an Upper House vote.
Because the opposition parties' attitudes can decide the fate of bills designed to give more power to local governments, the governors made it clear that they will contact the opposition camp to gain their cooperation. It may be important for the governors to approach political parties. But at the same time they must clearly demonstrate to local residents how devolution will help improve the quality of their lives.