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Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008

GAS TAX, BUDGET BILLS TARGETED

Fukuda hints at second override


Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda hinted Tuesday that he would again use the ruling coalition's two-thirds majority in the Lower House to override the Upper House if it fails to pass budget-related bills — including one on the gasoline and other auto-related taxes.

The Democratic Party of Japan meanwhile threatened to submit a censure motion against Fukuda if he resorts to the rarely used option again.

"I would like to clarify . . . that if the ruling bloc should once again neglect (the opinion of) the Upper House on (such issues) as deliberation over the special taxes law, we are prepared to submit a censure motion against the prime minister," said Azuma Koshiishi, chair of the DPJ's Upper House caucus, as he kicked off debate on Fukuda's policy speech of last week.

Earlier this month, the ruling coalition used its Lower House majority to override the opposition-controlled Upper House and pass a new version of the special antiterrorism law, which allows Japan to provide fuel and other support in the Indian Ocean to multinational naval ships fighting terrorism in and around Afghanistan. It was the first time the option had been used in more than half a century.

"I, too, think that the second vote (for ramming bills through the Lower House) is a rare method, but it is approved by the Constitution as a decision-making measure to draw a conclusion after thorough discussion," Fukuda said in response to Koshiishi.

With fiscal 2007 ending in March, the government and the ruling bloc are desperate to pass a budget and related bills through the Diet, including a revision to the Special Tax Measures Law, which sets special additional rates on gasoline and other auto-related taxes.

As gas prices continue to climb, the new rates are expected to be a key issue in the Diet this session.

The extra rates on gasoline and motor vehicle tonnage — adopted in the 1970s — are due to expire at the end of March. But the government plans to extend them for another 10 years. The rates were originally adopted as a provisional measure to finance road construction and have stayed in place for decades.

In his policy speech Friday, Fukuda stressed that the provisional tax rates need to be retained to "maintain and fix roads, secure adequate access to emergency hospitals, and take measures against urban traffic jams and grade crossings that always seem to be closed."

Fukuda also said extending the rates is important from the viewpoint of global warming. Many LDP lawmakers argue that the rates are necessary because lowering gasoline prices would increase motor vehicle use.

The DPJ, however, opposes extending the extra rates in favor of lowering gas prices, which could boost economic activity.

An Upper House censure motion is not legally binding, but Koshiishi said that passing one would be "extremely grave."

"I think (the prime minister) would have no choice but to resign (along with his Cabinet) or dissolve the Lower House" for a snap election, he said.



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