Legislators hold signs touting the passage of a special budget spending bill yesterday at the legislature in Taipei. Photo: Tu Chien-jung, Taipei Times

CROSS-PARTY SUPPORT: Many social and economic programs get huge cash injections, although the KMT failed in its effort to raise the personal rebate to NT$10,000

/ Staff writer, with CNA

The legislature yesterday passed a highly anticipated spending plan to redistribute surplus tax revenue, including a NT$6,000 (US$197.67) handout to citizens and eligible foreign nationals beginning on April 6.

The bill to distribute NT$379.9 billion from surplus tax revenues was approved by lawmakers across party lines after they agreed to cut NT$120 million, or 3.29 percent, from the proposed NT$380 billion.

The bill, proposed by the Cabinet late last month, budgets tax surplus from fiscal 2022 and would be used until 2025 to cover debts accumulated by state-run companies and programs, and provide incentives to help boost the economy.

A total of NT$141.7 billion is budgeted for the NT$6,000 cash handout foreign nationals with permanent residency and resident spouses of Taiwanese nationals are also eligible to receive.

Foreign nationals without permanent residency are not eligible, regardless of whether they have paid taxes in Taiwan.

Other allocations include NT$30 billion to the Labor Insurance fund, NT$20 billion to the National Health Insurance fund and NT$50 billion to state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower), all of which have been operating at a loss.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs is to receive NT$31.7 billion for subsidiaries to small and medium-sized enterprises and the manufacturing sector.

Another NT$10.3 billion is to go to the Ministry of Health and Welfare for financial assistance to low-income and lower-middle-income households, people with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications is to receive NT$27.4 billion to subsidize public transportation fares and provide incentives for foreign tourists to visit Taiwan.

Aside from NT$1.3 billion that is being held in reserve, the remaining surplus revenues are to go to the education, culture and interior ministries for subsidies and programs.

Dozens of proposed changes to the bill were rejected yesterday after being put to the vote, including a proposal by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to raise the cash handout to NT$10,000.

Speaking after the bill's passage, KMT caucus whip William Tseng (Zeng Mingzong) said he hopes the cash handsouts help Taiwanese, despite the failure of his party to increase the amount.

However, Tseng criticized the allocation of NT$50 billion to Taipower, saying the company's financial problems were caused by the government's failures in its energy policy.

Taipower has denied similar claims and blamed “soaring international fuel prices” for its losses.

The company recorded losses of NT$267.5 billion last year and NT$32.1 billion, before tax, in January, an increase of NT$5.9 billion over the same month last year.

Although the soaring cost of natural gas and other fuels was at the root of the losses, Taipower was not able to pass on the costs to power users as the government tried to manage inflation.

The government has also moved to use natural gas more aggressively in Taiwan's overall power mix as it phases out nuclear power and reduces the use of coal-fired power plants because of emissions concerns, leaving Taiwan more vulnerable to increases in the fuel's price.

Despite government reluctance to raise electricity prices, it agreed on March 17 to do so to “reflect costs.”

Households and small businesses are to see an average electricity price increase of 2.6 percent starting on Saturday next week, while industries would be affected by a more marked increase of 14.2 percent.

Premier Chen Chien-jen (陈建仁) thanked lawmakers shortly after the bill was passed and said the government would do its best to allocate the cash payments “as soon as possible.”

Online registration for the cash handouts began on Wednesday.

People who complete registration before Monday are to receive payment as early as April 6 via direct deposit, the Ministry of Digital Affairs said.

Retrieval via ATMs would be available from April 10, and at post offices from April 17.

Additional reporting by Chung Li-hua

News source: TAIPEI TIMES