By Jun Ji-hye
Rival parties have locked horns once more over covering the cost of free school meals and child-care programs as the National Assembly conducts its budget deliberations for next year.
The ruling Saenuri Party is maintaining a position that local governments and regional educational offices should bear the cost. They add that offering free childcare, along with the preschool education program, is a legal obligation of provincial governments, while providing free school meals has no legal basis. Free meals are entirely at the provincial governors' own discretion, they argue.
Cheong Wa Dae had previously announced the same stance.
Meanwhile, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) is claiming that free school meals and free child-care programs should not be separated, and the central government should share the cost of both plans with local offices.
Free child-care programs were initiated in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election by the then ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye, while free school meals were introduced by the opposition.
This latest conflict stems from provincial governors from the Saenuri Party, including South Gyeongsang Province Governor Hong Joon-pyo, refusing to allocate a budget for free school meals, citing a lack of money. In response, a number of regional educational chiefs affiliated with the NPAD are not allotting outlay for free childcare.
Rep. Joo Ho-young, chairman of the ruling party's policy committee, said, "Rival parties revised the relevant law together in 2012 to introduce free childcare and the preschool education program; this means implementing both programs is a legal obligation. Offering free school meals does not carry such an obligation."
Joo stressed that parties should review their priority list of policies and properly decide how to create a budget for welfare programs.
In response, Rep. Moon Hee-sang, the NPAD's interim leader, said, "If the government and the ruling party try to separate free childcare and free school meals, this will lead to social turmoil."
Moon said the public consensus toward free school meals was made before President Park had promised free childcare programs.
The opposition party claimed the Park administration is shifting responsibility to provincial governments, urging the central government to support any shortfall among local bodies.
As a measure to secure finances for free welfare, the opposition is calling for higher corporation tax, adding that tax cuts for the wealthy should also be withdrawn.
"If the government raises the corporation tax, it will be able to secure more than 5 trillion won in revenue," said Rep. Woo Yoon-keun, the NPAD floor leader.
The ruling party is taking a cautious approach toward a tax hike. Chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung said, "It is hard to give an immediate answer given the sensitivity of the matter."
The clash between the two camps is expected to continue until the end of this month when the National Assembly Special Committee on Budget and Accounts is scheduled to complete its deliberations.
Follow Jun Ji-hye on Twitter @TheKopJihye
'증세' 거론 주목…'사자방' 국조 기싸움 전망
새누리당 이완구, 새정치민주연합 우윤근 원내대표는 11일 오전 국회 운영위원장실에서 주례회동을 연다.
이날 회동에서는 최근 정치권에서 재점화된 무상보육과 무상급식 등 무상복지 논란과 관련한 해법을 놓고 의견교환이 있을 것으로 보인다.
특히 재원부족에 따른 무상복지 해법으로 전날 새정치연합 문희상 비상대책위원장이 제안한 '증세 논의' 문제가 거론될지 주목된다.
우 원내대표는 이날 회동에서 '사자방(4대강·자원외교·방산비리)' 국정조사를 다시 요구할 것으로 보인다.
그러나 이 원내대표는 '당국의 감사와 수사 상황을 봐가면 국조에 대한 입장을 전개해도 무방하다'면서 정기국회 기간 현안에 집중할 것을 강조한 바 있어 여야 간 팽팽한 기싸움이 예상된다.
이와 함께 무상복지 논란과 함께 진행 중인 내년도 예산안과 경제살리기 법안 등 핵심 법안의 처리 문제에 대해서도 협의가 진행될 것으로 전망된다. (연합뉴스)