Act one, act first – the law on fiscal responsibility
Gábor P. Kiss
The Law on Fiscal Responsibility adopted late 2008 is a new element in Hungarian fiscal policy, although not without precedent. Under the law, the Parliament and the Government limit themselves to prevent high fiscal deficits and a further increase in public indebtedness, experienced in recent years. Budget planning turns into a three-year process, hardening over time. As a first step, the targeted primary (non-interest) budget balance is subject to the requirement that the stock of government debt cannot rise in real terms. However, ex post, the law allows for deviations in fiscal performance-including those reflecting the effect of so-called automatic stabilizers-attributable to factors beyond the control of the authorities. This means that the actual deficit is not necessarily equal to the deficit path consistent with the real debt limit, but it may fluctuate around this trend over the medium term. In addition, the law prescribes observance of the pay-go principle. Finally, it provides for the establishment of an independent Fiscal Council entrusted with monitoring compliance with the rules and with transparency standards. We evaluated the law according to the Kopits–Symansky criteria applied in the international literature. In most aspects, the law exhibits favourable properties, consistent with the criteria, although inevitably at the expense of simplicity. The assessment suggests that the law would benefit from extending coverage of the rules to local governments. Moreover, enforceability of the rules would be strengthened if the law were adopted by a qualified legislative majority.
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