Chile: Chile proposes tight budget for 2017
October 5, 2016
The Chilean government presented the most austere budget proposal in over a decade on 30 September. This is designed to protect fiscal sustainability in a context of subdued state revenues as the country suffers from a third year of weak economic growth and depressed prices for copper, its top export. Low public spending threatens to further hamper growth and to undermine President Michelle Bachelet’s popularity—which in August fell to a new historic low—ahead of next year’s elections.
The 2017 draft budget envisages public spending growth of just 2.7%, which would represent the lowest increase in 14 years and compares to an estimated 4.2% increase this year and a 9.8% rise in 2015. According to Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdés, the fiscal deficit will widen from an estimated 3.1% of GDP this year to 3.3% of GDP in 2017. In accordance with Chile’s fiscal rule, which historically helped to preserve Chile’s reputation for fiscal prudence, the structural deficit will decline by 0.25 percentage points and reach about 1.5% of GDP in 2017. The key underlying assumptions for these budget projections are trend GDP growth of 3.0% and an average copper price of USD 2.56 per pound. The fact that Chile’s fiscal deficit will remain relatively high implies a continued rise in public debt, which, although still low, has more than doubled in the past six years, reaching an equivalent of 17.5% of GDP in 2015. Next year, the Finance Ministry projects that public debt will exceed 20% of GDP, a level last seen in 1994.
The government’s planned spending is focused on some of the centerpieces of its reform agenda. Spending on healthcare and education are envisaged to increase the most, by 6.2% and 4.8%, respectively. Key initiatives include increasing the access to free higher education for students from low socio-economic backgrounds and improving primary healthcare. Other spending hikes aim to improve security and to provide for a 10% rise in the basic solidary pension. By contrast, public investment will be scaled back slightly from an estimated 4.2% of GDP this year to 4.0% of GDP in 2017.